Hot or Not: How Pollinators Choose Which Flowers to Pollinate

Hoverfly by flickr user Neil Mullins.

Pollinators are essential for hundreds of thousands of plant species and over a thousand crop species. Without them, our agricultural system would suffer immensely. That is why it is so important to understand these creatures and the variables which attract them.

A study published in 2017, takes a deep look into what influences site choice by pollinators, specifically the Hoverfly. Researchers observed Hoverfly behavior in hemiboreal, alpine, and tropical environments in India and Sweden. For two years they collected data that observed which flowers Hoverflies were attracted to and which ones they did not care for. The Hoverflies are called generalists pollinators, meaning that they will take pollen from a range of plants, not just a specific species. Those studying the Hoverflies wanted to know more about the numerous plants that the pollinators would provide their services to. They tried to determine if the plants most attractive to pollinators had any common traits that would give them this advantage. These traits could include color, scent, or pattern.  

During the first year in 2015, researchers collected data from real flowers. In the second year of 2016, they created lures- artificial flowers- to attract the Hoverflies. Flowers which the pollinator visited and seemed attracted to were called “hot” and flowers which the pollinator thought of as less attractive but not repellant were called “cold”.

The study found some surprising results that conflict with existing ideas about pollinator preference. Hoverflies, and potentially other pollinators, can compensate for changes in their environment and locate a few specific traits that they favor. It was found that often floral color didn’t make a difference in preference. This shows that pollinators are versatile yet sensitive if changes within their environments occur.

Understanding the various characteristics across environments that attract Hoverflies is useful in many ways. For example, plants which contain likable characteristics could be planted in agricultural fields to increase wild pollination. In addition, the results can be used to maintain plants which will increase pollination and population growth of Hoverflies. Managing our pollinators has become a critical task as we recognize their importance and their threatened status.

Source: Nordström, K., Dahlbom, J., Pragadheesh, V. S., Ghosh, S.,Olsson, A., Dyakova, O., Suresh, S.K.,Olsson, S.B. 2017. In situ modeling of multimodal floral cues attracting wild pollinators across environments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 14:13218-13223.

Photo Source: flickr


2 Replies to “Hot or Not: How Pollinators Choose Which Flowers to Pollinate”

  1. Super interesting! I had always thought that bright colors were the most appealing trait for attracting pollinators. I had not considered scent or pattern. I wonder if pollinators tend to favor native plants over exotic plants, even if the exotic ones “seem” more attractive.

  2. Awesome article! I wonder how it can relate back to regular people; can we plant certain flowers with particular physical characteristics in our garden to help or harm pollinator populations?

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