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One floral characteristic associated with bat pollination (chiropterophily) is copious pollen production, a pattern we confirmed in a local comparison of hummingbird- and bat-adapted flowers from a cloud forest site in Ecuador. Previous authors have suggested that wasteful pollen transfer by bats accounted for the pattern. Here we propose and test a new hypothesis: bats select for increased pollen production because they can efficiently transfer larger amounts of pollen, which leads to a more linear male fitness gain curve for bat-pollinated plants. Flight cage experiments with artificial flowers and flowers of Aphelandra acanthus provide support for this hypothesis; in both instances, the amount of pollen delivered to stigmas by birds is not related to the amount of pollen removed from anthers on the previous visit, while the same function for bats increases linearly. Thus, increased pollen production will be linearly related to increased male reproductive success for bat flowers, while for bird flowers, increased pollen production leads to rapidly diminishing fitness returns. We speculate that fur takes up and holds more pollen than feathers, which seem to readily shed excess grains. Our gain-curve hypothesis may also explain why evolutionary shifts from bird to bat pollination seem more common than shifts in the opposite direction.

Publication Date

January 2010

Publication Title

American Naturalist





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