Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 10, pp 1247–1257 | Cite as

Intersexual mimicry and flowering phenology facilitate pollination in a dioecious habitat specialist species, Myristica fatua (Myristicaceae)

  • Shivani Krishna
  • Hema Somanathan


Myristica fatua is a dioecious specialist species restricted to the endangered, freshwater Myristica swamp forests in the Western Ghats, India. Earlier studies have alluded to pollination by deception in members of the Myristica genus, and thus we examined the pollination ecology comprising floral biology, flower production, flower visitors, and reproductive success in M. fatua and inferred the potential strategies that could permit such deception in this habitat specialist tree. Male flowers provide pollen rewards for an extended period of time while female flowers are rewardless and both sexes are visited by generalist insects, mainly by honeybees and stingless bees. Bee visits were significantly more frequent and longer on male than on female flowers as bees collected pollen from male flowers. We found that flower production patterns create a preponderance of males compared to females in the swamp populations. Using a model of honeybee color vision, we found the distance between the color loci of male and female flowers and based on minimum visual angle subtended by these flowers, we suggest that the two floral sexes cannot be discriminated by bees. Bees are likely deceived by the perceptual similarity of rewardless female flowers to pollen-offering male flowers and pollination is the consequence of foraging errors made by pollinators that encounter largely male–rarely female flower mosaics as they forage among clump-distributed M. fatua trees in the swamp habitat.


Bakerian mimicry Bees Deceit Myristica swamps Pollen rewards Western Ghats 



We thank G. Gopalan and Binu for field logistics, the Kerala Forest Department for research permits and Balamurali GS, Freerk Molleman, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. This study was supported by intramural funds from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India (BT/PR/12720/COE/34/21/2015/A2) to HS. SK acknowledges being funded by a Doctoral Fellowship from the Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India.

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IISER TVM Centre for Research and Education in Ecology and Evolution (ICREEE), School of BiologyIndian Institute of Science Education and Research, ThiruvananthapuramThiruvananthapuramIndia

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