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Evolution of polyploidy and the diversification of plant-pollinator interactions

TitleEvolution of polyploidy and the diversification of plant-pollinator interactions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsThompson, JN, Merg, KF
Page range2197-2206

One of the major mechanisms of plant diversification has been the evolution of polyploid populations that differ from their diploid progenitors in morphology, physiology, and environmental tolerances. Recent studies have indicated that polyploidy may also have major effects on ecological interactions with herbivores and pollinators. We evaluated pollination of sympatric diploid and tetraploid plants of the rhizomatous herb Heuchera grossulariifolia (Saxifragaceae) along the Selway and Salmon Rivers of northern Idaho, USA, during four consecutive years. Previous molecular and ecological analyses had indicated that the tetraploid populations along these two river systems are independently derived and differ from each other in multiple traits. In each region, we evaluated floral visitation rate by all insect visitors, pollination efficacy of all major visitors, and relative contribution of all major pollinators to seed set. In both regions, diploid and tetraploid plants attracted different suites of floral visitors. Most pollination was attributable to several bee species and the moth Greya politella. Lasioglossum bees preferentially visited diploid plants at Lower Salmon but not at Upper Selway, queen Bombus centralis preferentially visited tetraploids at both sites, and worker B. centralis differed between sites in their cytotype preference. Hence, diploid and autotetraploid H. grossulariifolia plants act essentially as separate ecological species and may experience partial reproductive isolation through differential visitation and pollination by their major floral visitors. Overall the results, together with recent results from other studies, suggest that the repeated evolution of polyploidy in plants may contribute importantly to the structure and diversification of ecological interactions in terrestrial communities.

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