Pollination in a new climate: assessing the potential influence of flower temperature variation on insect pollinator behaviour

Mani Shrestha, Jair E. Garcia, Zoë Bukovac, Alan Dorin, Adrian G. Dyer

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42 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change has the potential to enhance or disrupt biological systems, but currently, little is known about how organism plasticity may facilitate adaptation to localised climate variation. The bee-flower relationship is an exemplar signal-receiver system that may provide important insights into the complexity of ecological interactions in situations like this. For example, several studies on bee temperature preferences show that bees prefer to collect warm nectar from flowers at low ambient temperatures, but switch their preferences to cooler flowers at ambient temperatures above about 30 C. We used temperature sensor thermal probes to measure the temperature of outdoor flowers of 30 plant species in the Southern regions of the Australian mainland, to understand how different species could modulate petal temperature in response to changes in ambient temperature and, potentially, influence the decision-making of bees in the flowering plant’s favour. We found that flower petal temperatures respond in different ways to changing ambient temperature: linearly increasing or decreasing relative to the ambient temperature, dynamically changing in a non-linear manner, or varying their temperature along with the ambient conditions. For example, our investigation of the difference between ambient temperature and petal temperature (ΔT), and ambient temperature, revealed a non-linear relationship for Erysimum linifolium and Polygala grandiflora that seems suited to bee temperature preferences. The temperature profiles of species like Hibertia vestita and H. obtusifolia appear to indicate that they do not have a cooling mechanism. These species may therefore be less attractive to bee pollinators in changing climatic conditions with ambient temperatures increasingly above 30 C. This may be to the species’ detriment when insect-pollinator mediated selection is considered. However, we found no evidence that flower visual characteristics used by bees to identify flowers at close range, such as colour or shape, were straightforward modulators of floral temperature. We could not identify any clear link to phylogenetic history and temperature modulation either. Mapping our test flower distribution on the Australian continent however, indicates a potential clustering that suggests different flower responses may constitute adaptations to local conditions. Our study proposes a framework for modelling the potential effects of climate change and floral temperature on flower pollination dynamics at local and global scales.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0200549
Number of pages24
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

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