04 - Relationships of Types of Pollinators and Flowers

Plants and pollinators have co-evolved physical characteristics that make them more likely to interact successfully, which has in turn led to the great diversity of flowers in nature. The plants benefit from attracting a particular type of pollinator to its flower, ensuring that its pollen will be carried to another flower of the same species and hopefully resulting in successful reproduction. 

The flower type, shape, color, odor, nectar, and structure vary by the type of pollinator that visits them. Such characteristics are considered pollination syndromes and can be used to predict the type of pollinator that will aid the flower in successful reproduction. The more specific the relationship between the flower and pollinator, the more likely the pollen of that species will be successfully transferred and that the plant's pollen will not be wasted on the flower of a different species.

These plant-pollinator interactions illuminate hypotheses of co-evolution, such as how mutualism or antagonism can alter plant morphology or pollinator behavior and morphology.  These changes are predicted from the theory of natural selection, which posits that each member of the interaction is only "looking" to maximize its own fitness.  

Plants and pollinators do not have the same goals.  Plants want to maximize the spread of pollen to new individuals, while at the same time minimizing the energetic costs of producing pollen and nectar to attract pollinator vectors.  Pollinators, on the other hand, want to maximize energetic rewards of high quality food in the form of proteinaceous pollen and sugary nectar, while at the same time minimizing the cost of foraging.  These seemingly antagonistic goals can result in highly specialized relationships between plant and pollinator symbionts.

Now that we know the parts of the flower and understand the processes of pollination and fertilization, we can explore the relationship between plants and their respective pollination vectors. Use this exploratory exercise to explore these relationships. Click on the icon below to begin.

This is a graphic matrix table that provides detailed information about pollinators' characteristics.

Here is more information about pollinators and flowers.

Also available is this article on how you can help.  

To test your knowledge of the characteristics of pollinators and flowers, try this exercise. Click on the icon below to begin.

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