Typology in pollination biology: Lessons from an historical critique

Nickolas Waser, Jeff Ollerton, Andreas Erhardt


Typological schemes that describe putative floral adaptations for pollinators have played a central role in pollination biology. In 1882 the prominent German botanist and Darwinist Hermann Müller commented critically on a precursor of modern versions of such “pollination syndromes” that had been developed by his Italian colleague Federico Delpino. Delpino also was a self-proclaimed Darwinist, but in fact adhered to teleology—explanation beyond nature. As a consequence he viewed his typology as reflecting a deeper ideal and thus as rigidly true, and rejected as unimportant any visitors to flowers that it did not predict. Although Müller also classified flowers as to pollinators, he considered such schemes to be fallible, and pondered what diversity and variation in floral visitors might mean. Müller’s comments, which we translate here, are of interest given that appeals to teleology have resurfaced from time to time in discussions of pollination syndromes, and more importantly because his warning against taking typological schemes too literally remains valid. Typology is a useful tool in biology, including pollination biology, but care must be taken that it does not replace nature as perceived reality.


Darwinism; Federico Delpino; Hermann Müller; history; natural history; pollination syndromes; teleology; typology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.26786/1920-7603%282011%292

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ISSN 1920-7603


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