Journal Article

The natural history of pollination and mating in bird-pollinated <i>Babiana</i> (Iridaceae)

Caroli de Waal, Bruce Anderson and Spencer C. H. Barrett

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 3, pages 667-679
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
The natural history of pollination and mating in bird-pollinated Babiana (Iridaceae)

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Floral variation, pollination biology and mating patterns were investigated in sunbird-pollinated Babiana (Iridaceae) species endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa. The group includes several taxa with specialized bird perches and it has been proposed that these function to promote cross-pollination.


Pollinator observations were conducted in 12 populations of five taxa (B. ringens subspp. ringens, australis, B. hirsuta, B. avicularis, B. carminea) and geographic variation in morphological traits investigated in the widespread B. ringens. Experimental pollinations were used to determine the compatibility status, facility for autonomous self-pollination and intensity of pollen limitation in six populations of four taxa. Allozyme markers were employed to investigate mating patterns in four populations of three species.

Key Results

Sunbirds were the primary pollinators of the five Babiana taxa investigated. Correlated geographical variation in perch size, flower size and stigma–anther separation was evident among B. ringens populations. Experimental pollinations demonstrated that B. ringens and B. avicularis were self-compatible with variation in levels of autonomous self-pollination and weak or no pollen limitation of seed set. In contrast, B. hirsuta was self-incompatible and chronically pollen limited. Estimates of outcrossing rate indicated mixed mating with substantial self-fertilization in all species investigated.


Despite the possession of specialized bird perches in B. ringens and B. avicularis, these structures do not prevent considerable selfing from occurring, probably as a result of autonomous self-pollination. In eastern populations of B. ringens, smaller flowers and reduced herkogamy appear to be associated with a shift to predominant selfing. Relaxed selection on perch function due to increased selfing may explain the increased incidence of apical flowers in some populations.

Keywords: Babiana; bird perch; sunbird pollination; floral variation; mating; pollen limitation; relaxed selection

Journal Article.  7547 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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