Colour evolution within orchids depends on whether the pollinator is a bee or a fly

M. Shrestha, M. Burd, J. E. Garcia, A. Dorin, A. G. Dyer

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Orchids are a classic angiosperm model for understanding biotic pollination. We studied orchid species within two species-rich herbaceous communities that are known to have either hymenopteran or dipteran insects as the dominant pollinators, in order to understand how flower colour relates to pollinator visual systems. We analysed features of the floral reflectance spectra that are significant to pollinator visual systems and used models of dipteran and hymenopteran colour vision to characterise the chromatic signals used by fly-pollinated and bee-pollinated orchid species. In contrast to bee-pollinated flowers, fly-pollinated flowers had distinctive points of rapid reflectance change at long wavelengths and a complete absence of such spectral features at short wavelengths. Fly-pollinated flowers also had significantly more restricted loci than bee-pollinated flowers in colour space models of fly and bee vision alike. Globally, bee-pollinated flowers are known to have distinctive, consistent colour signals. Our findings of different signals for fly pollination is consistent with pollinator-mediated selection on orchid species that results from the distinctive features of fly visual systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
JournalPlant Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Chromatic signal
  • floral colour
  • fly pollination
  • orchids

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