Circadian rhythm of a Silene species favours nocturnal pollination and constrains diurnal visitation

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Background and Aims Traits related to flower advertisement and reward sometimes vary in a circadian way, reflecting phenotypic specialization. However, specialized flowers are not necessarily restricted to specialized pollinators. This is the case of most Silene species, typically associated with diurnal or nocturnal syndromes of pollination but usually showing complex suites of pollinators.

Methods A Silene species with mixed floral features between diurnal and nocturnal syndromes was used to test how petal opening, nectar production, scent emission and pollination success correlate in a circadian rhythm, and whether this is influenced by environmental conditions. The effect of diurnal and nocturnal visitation rates on plant reproductive success is also explored in three populations, including the effect of the pollinating seed predator Hadena sancta.

Key Results The result showed that repeated petal opening at dusk was correlated with nectar secretion and higher scent production during the night. However, depending on environmental conditions, petals remain opened for a while in the morning, when nectar and pollen still were available. Pollen deposition was similarly effective at night and in the morning, but less effective in the afternoon. These results were consistent with field studies.

Conclusions The circadian rhythm regulating floral attractiveness and reward in S. colorata is predominantly adapted to nocturnal flower visitors. However, favourable environmental conditions lengthen the optimal daily period of flower attraction and pollination towards morning. This allows the complementarity of day and night pollination. Diurnal pollination may help to compensate the plant reproductive success when nocturnal pollinators are scarce and when the net outcome of H. sancta shifts from mutualism to parasitism. These results suggest a functional mechanism explaining why the supposed nocturnal syndrome of many Silene species does not successfully predict their pollinator guilds.

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