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Flowering patterns of long-lived Heliconia inflorescences: implications for visiting and resident nectarivores

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Summary

Flowering patterns of four Heliconia (Heliconiaceae) species in Trinidad, West Indies were examined for their predictability and availability to the nectarivores that rely on Heliconia floral nectar. Principal flower visitors are trapling hermit hummingbirds; inflorescences are inhabited by nectarivorous hummingbird flower mites that move between inflorescences by riding in the hummingbirds' nares.

Heliconia inflorescences flower for 40–200 days, providing long-term sources of copious nectar (30–60 μl per flower), but each Heliconia flower lasts only a single day. As an inflorescence ages the interval increases between open flowers within a bract; wet-season inflorescences produce open flowers more slowly than dry-season conspecifics.

Estimated daily energy expenditures for hermit hummingbirds demonstrate that slow production of short-lived open flowers plus low inflorescence density preclude territorial defense of Heliconia by the hermits. Heliconia flowering patterns are viewed as a means of (i) regulating reproductive investment by the plants through staggered flower production over long periods of time, and (ii) maintaining outcrossing by necessitating a traplining visitation pattern by its hummingbird pollinators. I suggest that Heliconia exhibit a two-tiered pollination system by using hermit hummingbirds primarily for outcrossing and using hummingbird flower mites primarily for self-pollination.

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Dobkin, D.S. Flowering patterns of long-lived Heliconia inflorescences: implications for visiting and resident nectarivores. Oecologia 64, 245–254 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00376878

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