Inbreeding in Solanum carolinense alters floral attractants and rewards and adversely affects pollinator visitation

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Inbreeding depression is well documented in flowering plants and adversely affects a wide range of fitness-related traits. Recent work has begun to explore the effects of inbreeding on ecological interactions among plants and other organisms, including insect herbivores and pathogens. However, the effects of inbreeding on floral traits, floral scents, and pollinator visitation are less well studied.


Using inbred and outbred maternal families of horsenettle (Solanum carolinense, Solanaceae), we examined the effects of inbreeding on traits associated with pollinator attraction and floral rewards. Specifically, we measured corolla size, counted pollen grains per flower, and analyzed floral volatile emissions via gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. We also examined pollinator visitation to experimental arrays of flowering inbred and outbred plants under field conditions.


Compared to those of outbred plants, flowers of inbred plants exhibited reduced corolla size and pollen production, as well as significantly reduced emission of the two most abundant volatile compounds in the floral blend. Furthermore, bumblebees—the main pollinators of horsenettle—discriminated against inbred flowers in the field: bees were more likely to make initial visits to flowers on outbred plants, visited outbred flowers more often overall, and spent more time on outbred flowers.


These results show that inbreeding can (1) alter floral traits that are known to mediate pollinator attraction; (2) reduce the production of floral rewards (pollen is the sole reward in horsenettle); and (3) adversely affect pollinator visitation under field conditions.


© 2020 Botanical Society of America

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American Journal of Botany