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Open Access Research article

Self-pollination rate and floral-display size in Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) with regard to floral-visitor taxa

Aaron F Howard1* and Edward M Barrows12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Georgetown University, Box 571229, Washington, DC 20057-1229, USA

2 Center for the Environment, Georgetown University, Box 571229, Washington, DC 20057-1229, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:144  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-144

Published: 23 June 2014



Animals fertilize thousands of angiosperm species whose floral-display sizes can significantly influence pollinator behavior and plant reproductive success. Many studies have measured the interactions among pollinator behavior, floral-display size, and plant reproductive success, but few studies have been able to separate the effects of pollinator behavior and post-pollination processes on angiosperm sexual reproduction. In this study, we utilized the highly self-incompatible pollinium-pollination system of Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) to quantify how insect visitors influenced male reproductive success measured as pollen removal, female reproductive success measured as pollen deposition, and self-pollination rate. We also determined how floral-display size impacts both visitor behavior and self-pollination rate.


Four insect taxonomic orders visited A. syriaca: Coleoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, and Lepidoptera. We focused on three groups of visitor taxa within two orders (Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera) with sample sizes large enough for quantitative analysis: Apis mellifera (Western Honey Bee), Bombus spp. (bumble bees) and lepidopterans (butterflies and moths). Qualitatively, lepidopterans had the highest pollinator importance values, but the large variability in the lepidopteran data precluded meaningful interpretation of much of their behavior. The introduced A. mellifera was the most effective and most important diurnal pollinator with regard to both pollen removal and pollen deposition. However, when considering the self-incompatibility of A. syriaca, A. mellifera was not the most important pollinator because of its high self-pollination rate as compared to Bombus spp. Additionally, the rate of self-pollination increased more rapidly with the number of flowers per inflorescence in A. mellifera than in the native Bombus spp.


Apis mellifera’s high rate of self-pollination may have significant negative effects on both male and female reproductive successes in A. syriaca, causing different selection on floral-display size than native pollinators.

Apis mellifera; Apocynaceae; Bombus; Insect pollinators; Asclepias syriaca; Floral-display size; Geitonogamy; Mating system; Self-pollination rate