Color & chemistry: how flowers signal reward quality to pollinators
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Proposed Symposium Title: Color & chemistry: how flowers signal reward quality to pollinators
Casper van der Kooi1, Kira Tiedge1
Affiliations: 1 Groningen University, Groningen, The Netherlands
The vast majority of flowering plants require animal pollinators for sexual reproduction, and in turn, many animal pollinators rely on floral rewards. Floral colour and scent are the two main signals that plants employ to attract potential pollinators. Our central hypothesis is that flower colour and scent have co-evolved with the sensory systems and preferences of pollinators and that those signals convey reliable (‘honest’) information about a flower’s reward.
To answer this question, we are trying to determine how flower signals and rewards match pollinator visual systems, ecology, and resource requirements among many independent transitions between pollinators with widely different visual systems, olfactory preferences and/or nutritional requirements. We are collecting and integrating data from a) (micro-)spectroscopy, anatomy, and state-of-the-art optical models to quantitatively understand how floral structure and pigmentation generate visual signals, b) volatile metabolomics to capture and analyse floral scents and c) semi-targeted metabolite profiling to study the nutritional properties of nectar (and pollen).
This comparative approach enables identifying how the colour and scent of flowers and the nutritional properties of nectar (and pollen) have co-evolved at a broad taxonomic scale. How plant-pollinator interactions have evolved and shaped biodiversity is a fundamental question in biology and has direct implications for agriculture and species conservation.