Honesty of Signaling and Pollinator Attraction: The Case of Flag-Like Bracts
Bracts are nonfloral showy structures associated with inflorescences. They are generally hypothesized to enhance plant reproductive success by attracting pollinating insects. We investigated whether flag-like bracts at the top of inflorescences reliably signal of floral food reward for pollinators in Salvia viridis L. Field and greenhouse data indicate incomplete synchrony between the development of flowers and bracts. Various measures of bract size, however, positively correlate with the number of open flowers on the inflorescence, and with their nectar rewards. Experimental removal of bracts from inflorescences significantly reduced honeybee visitation in the field. We compared these findings with field data on Lavandula stoechas L., another labiate species with flag-like displays. The number of open flowers in L. stoechas cannot be reliably predicted from the presence or size of the bracts. Bract clipping does not significantly reduce honeybee visits in this species. We conjecture that bees learn to orient to those bracts that reliably signal food rewards, and disregard bracts if they provide unreliable signals. Asynchronous development of bracts and floral rewards can reduce the reliability of the signals, and may explain the rarity of flag-like displays in pollination systems. We discuss additional selective forces that may favor bract displays.
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