Journal Article

Generalist passerine pollination of a winter-flowering fruit tree in central China

Qiang Fang, Ying-Zhuo Chen and Shuang-Quan Huang

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 2, pages 379-384
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online November 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr293
Generalist passerine pollination of a winter-flowering fruit tree in central China

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Background and Aims

Winter-flowering plants outside the tropics may experience a shortage of pollinator service, given that insect activity is largely limited by low temperature. Birds can be alternative pollinators for these plants, but experimental evidence for the pollination role of birds in winter-flowering plants is scarce.

Methods

Pollinator visitation to the loquat, Eriobotrya japonica (Rosaceae), was observed across the flowering season from November to January for two years in central China. Self- and cross-hand pollination was conducted in the field to investigate self-compatibility and pollen limitation. In addition, inflorescences were covered by bird cages and nylon mesh nets to exclude birds and all animal pollinators, respectively, to investigate the pollination role of birds in seed production.

Results

Self-fertilization in the loquat yielded few seeds. In early winter insect visit frequency was relatively higher, while in late winter insect pollinators were absent and two passerine birds (Pycnonotus sinensis and Zosterops japonicus) became the major floral visitors. However, seed-set of open-pollinated flowers did not differ between early and late winter. Exclusion of bird visitation greatly reduced seed-set, indicating that passerine birds were important pollinators for the loquat in late winter. The whitish perigynous flowers reward passerines with relatively large volumes of dilute nectar. Our observation on the loquat and other Rosaceae species suggested that perigyny might be related to bird pollination but the association needs further study.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that floral traits and phenology would be favoured to attract bird pollinators in cold weather, in which insect activity is limited.

Keywords: Winter flowering; bird pollination; Pycnonotus sinensis; generalist pollination system; perigyny; self-incompatibility; ornithophily

Journal Article.  3833 words.  Illustrated.

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

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