Floral colour structure in two Australian herbaceous communities: it depends on who is looking

Mani Shrestha, Adrian G. Dyer, Jair E. Garcia, Martin Burd

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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Pollinator-mediated interactions between plant species may affect the composition of angiosperm communities. Floral colour signals should play a role in these interactions, but the role will arise from the visual perceptions and behavioural responses of multiple pollinators. Recent advances in the visual sciences can be used to inform our understanding of these perceptions and responses. We outline the application of appropriate visual principles to the analysis of the annual cycle of floral colour structure in two Australian herbaceous communities. METHODS: We used spectrographic measurements of petal reflectance to determine the location of flowers in a model of hymenopteran colour vision. These representations of colour perception were then translated to a behaviourally relevant metric of colour differences using empirically calibrated colour discrimination functions for four hymenopteran species. We then analysed the pattern of colour similarity in terms of this metric in samples of co-flowering plants over the course of a year. We used the same method to analyse the annual pattern of phylogenetic relatedness of co-flowering plants in order to compare colour structure and phylogenetic structure. KEY RESULTS: Co-flowering communities at any given date seldom had colour assemblages significantly different from random. Non-random structure, both dispersion and clustering, occurred occasionally, but depended on which bee observer is considered. The degree of colour similarity was unrelated to phylogenetic similarity within a co-flowering community. CONCLUSIONS: Perceived floral colour structure varied with the sensory capabilities of the observer. The lack of colour structure at most sample dates, particularly the rarity of strong dispersion, suggests that plants do not use chromatic signals primarily to enable bees to discriminate between co-flowering species. It is more likely that colours make plants detectable in a complex landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-232
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2019


  • Community
  • competition
  • facilitation
  • floral colour
  • insect vision
  • pollination

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