Journal Article

Bird-pollinated flowers in an evolutionary and molecular context

Quentin Cronk and Isidro Ojeda

in Journal of Experimental Botany

Published on behalf of Society for Experimental Biology

Volume 59, issue 4, pages 715-727
Published in print March 2008 | ISSN: 0022-0957
Published online March 2008 | e-ISSN: 1460-2431 | DOI:
Bird-pollinated flowers in an evolutionary and molecular context

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Evolutionary shifts to bird pollination (ornithophily) have occurred independently in many lineages of flowering plants. This shift affects many floral features, particularly those responsible for the attraction of birds, deterrence of illegitimate flower visitors (particularly bees), protection from vigorous foraging by birds, and accurate placement of pollen on bird's bodies. Red coloration appears to play a major role in both bee-deterrence and bird-attraction. Other mechanisms of bird-attraction include the production of abundant dilute nectar and the provision of secondary perches (for non-hovering birds). As a result of selection for similar phenotypic traits in unrelated bird-pollinated species, a floral syndrome of ornithophily can be recognized, and this review surveys the component floral traits. The strong convergent evolution evident in bird-pollinated flowers raises a question about the nature of the genetic mechanisms underlying such transitions and whether the same gene systems are involved in most cases. As yet there is too little information to answer this question. However, some promising model systems have been developed that include closely related bee and bird-pollinated flowers, such as Ipomoea, Mimulus, and Lotus. Recent studies of floral developmental genetics have identified numerous genes important in the development of the floral phenotype, which are also potential candidates for involvement in shifts between bee-pollination and bird pollination. As more whole-genome information becomes available, progress should be rapid.

Keywords: Anthocyanin pigmentation; bird-pollination; candidate gene; developmental genetics; honey-eaters; hummingbirds; nectar; ornithophily; pollination syndrome; sunbirds

Journal Article.  8049 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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