Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 141–148 | Cite as

Variable responses of hawkmoths to nectar-depleted plants in two native Petunia axillaris (Solanaceae) populations

Original Paper


Pollination success of deceptive orchids is affected by the density and distribution of nectar providing plant species and overall plant density. Here we extended the framework of how plant density can affect pollination to examine how it may promote the success of plant intraspecific cheaters. We compared hawkmoth behaviour in two native populations of Petunia axillaris, where we simultaneously offered rewarding and manually depleted P. axillaris. We asked whether pollinator foraging strategies change as a function of plant density and whether such changes may differentially affect nectarless plants. We observed the first choice and number of flowers visited by pollinators and found that in the dense population, pollinators visited more flowers on rewarding plants than on nectar-depleted plants. In the sparse population, such discrimination was absent. As we found no differences in nectar volume between plants of the two populations, the observed differences in plant density may be temporal. We reason that if differences were more permanent, an equivalent of the remote habitat hypothesis prevails: in a sparse population, cheating plants benefit from the absence of inter- and intraspecific competitors because pollinators tend to visit all potential resources. In a denser population, a pollinator’s optimal foraging strategy involves more selectivity. This would cause between-plant competition for pollinators in a pollinator-limited context, which applies to most hawkmoth-pollinated systems. We propose that nectar-provisioning of plants can be density-dependant, with cheaters able to persist in low density areas.


Pollination Nectar Density Mutualism Cheating Petunia 



We thank all colleagues for helpful discussions, in particular Cris Kuhlemeier, Mark van Kleunen and Siobhan Braybrook for carefully reading the manuscript, Arturo Rebollo from INASE for growing our plants, Ana Pinto and Matthias Borer for help in the field, and the Swiss National Science Foundation (NCCR “plant survival”) for financial support. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and Lars Chittka for their suggestions to improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Plant ScienceUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute of BiologyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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