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Open Access Research article

How to be an attractive male: floral dimorphism and attractiveness to pollinators in a dioecious plant

Marc O Waelti1, Paul A Page12, Alex Widmer1 and Florian P Schiestl2*

Author Affiliations

1 Plant Ecological Genetics, Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland

2 Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zürich, Zollikerstrasse 107, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:190  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-190

Published: 6 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Sexual selection theory predicts that males are limited in their reproductive success by access to mates, whereas females are more limited by resources. In animal-pollinated plants, attraction of pollinators and successful pollination is crucial for reproductive success. In dioecious plant species, males should thus be selected to increase their attractiveness to pollinators by investing more than females in floral traits that enhance pollinator visitation. We tested the prediction of higher attractiveness of male flowers in the dioecious, moth-pollinated herb Silene latifolia, by investigating floral signals (floral display and fragrance) and conducting behavioral experiments with the pollinator-moth, Hadena bicruris.

Results

As found in previous studies, male plants produced more but smaller flowers. Male flowers, however, emitted significantly larger amounts of scent than female flowers, especially of the pollinator-attracting compounds. In behavioral tests we showed that naïve pollinator-moths preferred male over female flowers, but this preference was only significant for male moths.

Conclusion

Our data suggest the evolution of dimorphic floral signals is shaped by sexual selection and pollinator preferences, causing sexual conflict in both plants and pollinators.