, Volume 159, Issue 4, pp 757–766 | Cite as

Plant–hummingbird interactions in the West Indies: floral specialisation gradients associated with environment and hummingbird size

  • Bo Dalsgaard
  • Ana M. Martín González
  • Jens M. Olesen
  • Jeff Ollerton
  • Allan Timmermann
  • Laila H. Andersen
  • Adrianne G. Tossas
Plant-Animal Interactions - Original Paper


Floral phenotype and pollination system of a plant may be influenced by the abiotic environment and the local pollinator assemblage. This was investigated in seven plant–hummingbird assemblages on the West Indian islands of Grenada, Dominica and Puerto Rico. We report all hummingbird and insect pollinators of 49 hummingbird-pollinated plant species, as well as six quantitative and semi-quantitative floral characters that determine visitor restriction, attraction and reward. Using nonmetric multidimensional scaling analysis, we show that hummingbird-pollinated plants in the West Indies separate in floral phenotypic space into two gradients—one associated with the abiotic environment and another with hummingbird size. Plants pollinated by large, long-billed hummingbirds had flowers with long corolla tube, large amounts of nectar and showy orange-red colouration. These attracted few or no insect species, whereas plants pollinated by small, short-billed hummingbirds were frequently pollinated by insects, particularly lepidopterans. The separation of plants related to environmental factors showed that species in the wet and cold highlands produced large amounts of dilute nectar, possessed no or a weak odour, and were associated with few insects, particularly few hymenopterans, compared to plants in the dry and warm lowlands. The most specialised hummingbird-pollinated plants are found in the West Indian highlands where they are pollinated by mainly large, long-billed hummingbirds. At the other extreme, highly generalised plants growing in the dry and warm lowlands are pollinated by small, short-billed hummingbirds and numerous insect species. This illustrates that, even within the hummingbird-pollinated flora, pollination syndrome and the degree of specialisation may vary tremendously depending on pollinator morphology and environment.


Floral phenotype Insect pollinator Ornithophilous syndrome Plant–pollinator interaction Specialisation gradient 



We are grateful to the Forestry and Wildlife Division in Dominica, Department of Forestry and National Parks, Ministry of Agriculture in Grenada and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico for research permission. Thanks to Elvis Stedman (Dominica Rainforest Aerial Tram), Dean Jules (National Forestry Department, Grenada), Rubén Padrón (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico) and Gary R. Breckon (University of Puerto Rico—Mayagüez) for help identifying the plants, to Nico M. Franz (University of Puerto Rico—Mayagüez) for help identifying insects, and to Bruce McCune (Oregon State University) for statistical advice. Thanks to CREAF, Autonomous University of Barcelona for hosting B.D. Also thanks to Florian Schiestl, Ruben Alarcón and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the manuscript. The project was financed by the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Aarhus University (B.D., A.M.M.G., A.T. and L.H.A.), Svend G. Fiedler and Wife Foundation (A.M.M.G.), Augustinus Foundation (B.D.), Knud Højgaard Foundation (B.D.), Carlsberg Foundation (J.M.O.), the Danish National Science Research Council (J.M.O.) and WWF-Denmark/Novozymes (J.M.O.). All experiments comply with the current laws of Grenada, Dominica and Puerto Rico.

Supplementary material

442_2008_1255_MOESM1_ESM.doc (109 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 109 kb)
442_2008_1255_MOESM2_ESM.doc (118 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 117 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bo Dalsgaard
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ana M. Martín González
    • 2
  • Jens M. Olesen
    • 1
  • Jeff Ollerton
    • 3
  • Allan Timmermann
    • 1
  • Laila H. Andersen
    • 1
  • Adrianne G. Tossas
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AarhusAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Unit of Ecology and Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF)Autonomous University of BarcelonaBellaterra, BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Landscape and Biodiversity Research Group, School of Applied SciencesUniversity of NorthamptonNorthamptonUK
  4. 4.MayagüezUSA

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