Do pollinators influence the assembly of flower colours within plant communities?
The co-occurrence of plant species within a community is influenced by local deterministic or neutral processes as well as historical regional processes. Floral trait distributions of co-flowering species that share pollinators may reflect the impact of pollinator preference and constancy on their assembly within local communities. While pollinator sharing may lead to increased visitation rates for species with similar flowers, the receipt of foreign pollen via interspecific pollinator movements can decrease seed set. We investigated the pattern of community flower colour assembly as perceived by native honeybee pollinators within 24 local assemblages of co-flowering Oxalis species within the Greater Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. To explore the influence of pollinators on trait assembly, we assessed the impact of colour similarity on pollinator choices and the cost of heterospecific pollen receipt. We show that flower colour is significantly clustered within Oxalis communities and that this is not due to historical constraint, as flower colour is evolutionarily labile within Oxalis and communities are randomly structured with respect to phylogeny. Pollinator observations reveal that the likelihood of pollinators switching between co-flowering species is low and increases with flower colour similarity. Interspecific hand pollination significantly reduced seed set in the four Oxalis species we investigated, and all were dependant on pollinators for reproduction. Together these results imply that flower colour similarity carries a potential fitness cost. However, pollinators were highly flower constant, and remained so despite the extreme similarity of flower colour as perceived by honeybees. This suggests that other floral traits facilitate discrimination between similarly coloured species, thereby likely resulting in a low incidence of interspecific pollen transfer (IPT). If colour similarity promotes pollinator attraction at the community level, the observed clustering of flower colour within communities might result from indirect facilitative interactions. © 2010 Springer-Verlag.