Oecologia

, Volume 105, Issue 4, pp 517–523 | Cite as

A new dimension to hummingbird-flower relationships

  • Ethan J. Temeles
Plant Animal Interactions Original Paper

Abstract

The close correspondence between the bills of hummingbirds and the lengths of the flowers they feed from has been interpreted as an example of coadaptation. Observations of birds feeding at flowers longer and shorter than their bills, however, and the lack of experimental evidence for any feeding advantage to short bills, seem to contradict this interpretation. I address this problem by considering a little-studied dimension of floral morphology: corolla diameter. In laboratory experiments on female ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), probing abilities (maximum extraction depths) increased with increasing corolla diameter. Handling times increased with decreasing corolla diameter, resulting in “handling time equivalents”, i.e., flowers having the same handling times but different lengths and diameters. Longer-billed birds had greater maximum extraction depths and shorter handling times than shorter-billed birds at all corolla diameters greater than the width of the bill. In contrast, shorter-billed birds made fewer errors inserting their bills into narrow flowers. Hence, differences in bill lengths apparently are associated with trade-offs in foraging abilities, whereby longer-billed birds are able to feed at long flowers and may do so more quickly, whereas shorter-billed birds are able to feed more successfully at narrow flowers.

Key words

Plant-pollinator interactions Foraging behavior Hummingbirds Feeding adaptation Trochilidae 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan J. Temeles
    • 1
  1. 1.National Zoological ParkSmithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA

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