Resource partitioning by color in a tropical hummingbird

  • Ethan J. TemelesEmail author
  • Alexandra R. Mazzotta
  • April Williamson
Original Article


Many nectar-feeding animals use cues (floral signals) to locate, identify, and discriminate between floral resources. Whether competing pollinators can use cues to partition resources, however, has received little attention despite examples of pollinators differing in resource use. We examined whether sexes of the purple-throated carib hummingbird, Anthracothorax jugularis, partition artificial nectar sources (feeders) by color (red or yellow) or position (left or right), and whether such partitioning changes in response to changes in nectar reward. At equal nectar concentrations, sexes partitioned resources by color, but when one of the colors was reduced in quality, dominant males visited the more rewarding color, although they did not completely displace subordinate females. The position of the feeder had no effect on resource partitioning, and in the absence of color cues, male and female hummingbirds did not partition feeders. Our results differ from earlier studies where hummingbirds responded more to position than to color. We suggest that this difference may result from defense of patches as opposed to choice of individual food items as well as from differences between temperate and tropical hummingbird-plant communities in floral colors. Hummingbird-pollinated plants in many temperate communities converge on red flowers, which may eliminate color as a cue for resource partitioning, whereas the availability of plant species differing in floral color and pattern may provide tropical nectarivores with cues for resource subdivision.

Significance statement

Our results have major implications for the evolution of species diversity. Because plants and pollinators may reciprocally affect each other’s evolution, partitioning of floral resources by color may not only affect traits of pollinators but also may maintain and drive the diversification of floral colors and other floral traits.


Competition Foraging Cue use Color Hummingbird Territoriality 



We thank J. Andre, S. Durand, and M. Burton of the Forestry Service of the Commonwealth of Dominica for assistance and support, S. and A. Peyner-Loehner for accommodations and hospitality, and three anonymous reviewers, E. Fernandez-Juricic, T. C. M. Bakker, and N. J. Horton, for comments and consultation. Our research was supported by Amherst College and NSF grant DEB 1353783.

Compliance with ethical standards


Our research was supported by Amherst College and NSF grant DEB 1353783.

Conflicts of interest

Ethan Temeles has received research grants from NSF and Amherst College. Alexandra Mazzotta received support from Amherst College. April Williamson declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This research was approved by Jacqueline Andre and Stephen Durand of the Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Stefan and Annette Peyner-Loehner gave us permission to work on their property, the Tamarind Tree Hotel, Salisbury, Dominica, West Indies.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article [and its supplementary information files].

Supplementary material

265_2017_2358_MOESM1_ESM.xls (36 kb)
ESM 1 (XLS 35 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan J. Temeles
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexandra R. Mazzotta
    • 1
  • April Williamson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyAmherst CollegeAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Siler CityUSA

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