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Floral color change and the attraction of insect pollinators in lungwort (Pulmonaria collina)

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We studied the effect of floral color change on long- and short-distance attraction of insect pollinators to the herb lungwort, Pulmonaria collina. Lungwort flowers change color with age from red to blue. Young red flowers had a significantly greater pollen and nectar reward and were significantly more often unpollinated than old blue ones. Red and blue flowers both influenced long-distance attractiveness of plants, defined as the number of insect approaches towards an individual plant. After reaching a plant, flower visitors preferred to visit young red flowers. Therefore, short-distance attractiveness, defined as the number of flowers visited successively on an individual plant, was influenced mainly by the number of young red flowers. The co-occurrence of the change in reproductive ability, in amount of reward, and in flower color enabled lungwort plants to direct pollinators to reproductive, highly rewarding red flowers. The data suggest that by maintaining changed flowers lungwort plants can increase their long-distance attraction and simultaneously enhance the probability of flower visits to pre-changed flowers. Thus, we propose floral color change as a mechanism that can increase the efficiency of pollen transfer to enhance plant fitness.

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Received: 2 November 1998 / Accepted: 14 July 1999

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Oberrath, R., Böhning-Gaese, K. Floral color change and the attraction of insect pollinators in lungwort (Pulmonaria collina). Oecologia 121, 383–391 (1999).

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