Innate or learned preference for upward-facing flowers?: implications for the costs of pendent flowers from experiments on captive bumble bees
Pollinator preferences for phenotypic characters, including floral orientation, can affect plant reproductive success. For example, hawkmoths and syrphid flies prefer upward- over downward-facing flowers in field experiments. Although such preferences suggest a cost of pendent flowers in terms of pollinator attraction, we cannot rule out the possibility that the preferences have been affected by prior experience: pollinators might choose the same type of flowers to which they have already become accustomed. To test for innate preference, we observed bumble bees foraging on an array of upward- and downward-facing artificial flowers. Without any prior experience with vertical flowers, 91.7% bees chose an upward-facing flower at the very first visit. In addition to this innate preference, we also found that the preference was strengthened by experience, which suggests that the bees learned upward-facing flowers were easier to handle. Although bumble bees may concentrate on pendent flowers in the field, such learned preferences are evidently imposed on a template of upward-facing preference. Because bee-pollinated pendent flowers face particular difficulties in attracting visits, therefore, we expect them to compensate through other means, such as greater floral rewards.
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