Alpine Botany

, Volume 129, Issue 2, pp 81–94 | Cite as

Floral traits determine pollinator visitation in Rhododendron species across an elevation gradient in the Sikkim Himalaya

  • Shweta BasnettEmail author
  • Rengaian Ganesan
  • Soubadra M. Devy
Original Article


Plants growing along steep elevational gradients experience variations in abiotic conditions. The elevational gradient also affects the diversity and abundance of pollinators associated with these plants. As a result, plants may have locally adapted floral traits. However, detailed assessments of multiple floral traits along elevational gradients are often neglected despite the traits being important for plant sexual reproduction. We tested the association of floral traits with pollinators in response to elevation by identifying pollinators and measuring morphological and biochemical floral traits as well as studying the breeding systems of ten aggregated Rhododendron species in the Sikkim Himalaya. Corolla length, nectar volume and distance between stamen and stigma significantly decreased with elevation. In contrast, nectar concentrations were positively associated with elevation. Birds, bumblebees and flies were the three dominant pollinator groups. Bird visits showed a strong negative association with elevation while visits by bumblebees and flies increased with elevation. Species with longer corollas and higher nectar volumes showed higher rates of bird visits, while bumblebees were associated with species that had higher nectar concentrations. Fruit set following cross-pollination was high compared to self-pollination, and higher pollen limitation and auto-fertility were observed among species in higher elevations. These observed patterns in the association between floral traits and pollinator groups in response to elevation may help generate testable hypotheses on alpine plant–pollinator responses to climate warming.


Elevation Climate change Floral traits Himalaya Pollinators Rhododendron 



This research was funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India (Grant No. BT/01/NE/PS/NCBS/09) and National Mission on Himalayan Studies, and implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change of India (Grant No. GBPI/NMHS/HF/RA/2015-2016). We thank the Sikkim State Department of Forests and Wildlife, Sikkim Police Department and Indian Army for research permits and logistical support. We thank Saini Mallikat, Aaarti Pannure, Yeshwanth H, Vasuki Belavadi, Kumar Ghorpade and Seena Narayanan for insect identifications. Rakesh Basnett helped with some part of the field work. Sonam Bhutia provided assistance for the data collection throughout the field work. We thank Gaku Kudo and Shoko Shakai for their valuable comments on the analysis. We are very thankful to three anonymous reviewers whose comments have vastly improved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Declaration of authorship

SB and SD conceived and designed the research. SB carried out the field work, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to writing and approved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

35_2019_225_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 1285 kb)


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Copyright information

© Swiss Botanical Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and ConservationAshoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the EnvironmentBangaloreIndia
  2. 2.Manipal Academy of Higher EducationManipalIndia

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