Pollinator attraction in : the relative role of visual and olfactory cuesCornus capitata: the relative role of visual and olfactory cues (Cornaceae): the relative role of visual and olfactory cues

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It is generally accepted that visual displays and floral scent play important roles in communication between flowering plants and their pollinators. However, the relative role of visual and olfactory cues in pollinator attraction is largely unknown. In this study, we determined the roles of both types of cue in attracting pollinators to Cornus capitata, a medium sized tree with each capitulum surrounded by four large, white, petaloid bracts.


Pollinator observations and pollination experiments were conducted in a natural population; the inflorescences’ visual and olfactory signals were characterized by spectral and chemical analyses; the responses of pollinators to visual and olfactory cues were tested using dual-choice behavioural bioassays; the relative roles of visual and olfactory cues in pollinator attraction were tested by comparing the responses of pollinators to inflorescences subjected to three experimental treatments (intact, all bracts removed, and capitulum removed) within the natural population.

Important Findings

For fruit set, C. capitata is entirely dependent on pollinators, with a bee, Anthophora sp., being the main pollinator. Bracts present high colour distance and green contrast against the leaves. Twelve volatile compounds in the floral scent were detected, most of which have previously been reported to be attractive to a broad spectrum of bee species. Behavioural bioassays showed that both, visual cues alone and olfactory cues alone, are attractive to pollinating bees. However, visual cues alone attracted significantly more approaches than olfactory cues alone, while olfactory cues alone elicited a significantly higher landing percentage than visual cues alone. The finding suggests that, in the C. capitata–Anthophora sp. interaction, visual cues are mainly used for location from long distances, while olfactory cues mainly aid landing from short distances. Our results indicate that different modalities of floral cues should be considered together to understand fully the communication between flowering plant and pollinators.

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