Patterns of floral nectar standing crops allow plants to manipulate their pollinators

Graham H. Pyke*, John R. M. Kalman, Dayanne M. Bordin, Lucas Blanes, Philip A. Doble

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


‘Pollination syndromes’ involving floral nectar have eluded satisfactory evolutionary explanation. For example, floral nectars for vertebrate-pollinated plants average low sugar concentrations, while such animals prefer high concentrations, perplexing pollination biologists and arousing recent controversy. Such relationships should result from evolutionary games, with plants and pollinators adopting Evolutionarily Stable Strategies, and nectar manipulating rather than attracting pollinators. Plant potential to manipulate pollinators depends on relationships between neighbouring flowers within plants, for all nectar attributes, but this has not been investigated. We measured nectar volume, concentration and sugar composition for open flowers on naturally-growing Blandfordia grandiflora plants, presenting classic bird-pollinated plant syndrome. To evaluate potential pollinator manipulation through nectar, we analysed relationships between neighbouring flowers for nectar volume, concentration, proportion sucrose, log(fructose/glucose), and sugar weight. To evaluate potential attraction of repeat-visits to flowers or plants through nectar, we compared attributes between successive days. Nearby flowers were positively correlated for all attributes, except log(fructose/glucose) as fructose≈glucose. Most relationships between nectar attributes for flowers and plants on successive days were non-significant. Nectar-feeding pollinators should therefore decide whether to visit another flower on a plant, based on all attributes of nectar just-obtained, enabling plants to manipulate pollinators through adjusting nectar. Plants are unlikely to attract repeat pollinator-visits through nectar production. Floral nectar evolution is conceptually straightforward but empirically challenging. A mutant plant deviating from the population in attributes of nectar-production per flower would manipulate, rather than attract, nectar-feeding pollinators, altering pollen transfer, hence reproduction. However, links between floral nectar and plant fitness present empirical difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1660
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2020

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