Innate or learned preference for upward-facing flowers?: implications for the costs of pendent flowers from experiments on captive bumble bees

Takashi T Makino, James D Thomson


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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ISSN 1920-7603


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