Pollination syndromes and floral specialization

C. Fenster, Scott Armbruster, Paul Wilson, M. Dudash, J. Thomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Floral evolution has often been associated with differences in pollination syndromes. Recently, this conceptual structure has been criticized on the grounds that flowers attract a broader spectrum of visitors than one might expect based on their syndromes and that flowers often diverge without excluding one type of pollinator in favor of another. Despite these criticisms, we show that pollination syndromes provide great utility in understanding the mechanisms of floral diversification. Our conclusions are based on the importance of organizing pollinators into functional groups according to presumed similarities in the selection pressures they exert. Furthermore, functional groups vary widely in their effectiveness as pollinators for particular plant species. Thus, although a plant may be visited by several functional groups, the relative selective pressures they exert will likely be very different. We discuss various methods of documenting selection on floral traits. Our review of the literature indicates overwhelming evidence that functional groups exert different selection pressures on floral traits. We also discuss the gaps in our knowledge of the mechanisms that underlie the evolution of pollination syndromes. In particular, we need more information about the relative importance of specific traits in pollination shifts, about what selective factors favor shifts between functional groups, about whether selection acts on traits independently or in combination, and about the role of history in pollination-syndrome evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-403
Number of pages29
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
Publication statusPublished - 2004


Dive into the research topics of 'Pollination syndromes and floral specialization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this