Since the production of large and conspicuous flowers can be costly, self-pollinated or asexually reproducing plants are expected to lose characters for pollinator attraction. However, some plants still produce conspicuous flowers despite not relying on pollinators for fertilization, suggesting overlooked benefits of receiving flower visitors. Here, we present visitor-mediated microbial dispersal as a potential benefit of receiving flower visitors. Recent studies revealed that diverse microbes inhabit plant surfaces or plant tissues and that these microbes substantially benefit host plants. Animal flower visitors disperse these microbes. Since some microbes can migrate to seeds, the enhanced dispersal via visitors can modulate microbial communities of the next generations. Microbial dispersal via flower visitors may improve plant fitness via increased opportunities to receive microbes mutualistic for seeds and higher variances in seed microbial communities that function as “bet-hedging.” We can test this hypothesis by comparing microbial communities and the performance of seeds from experimentally visitor-excluded flowers and naturally animal-visited control flowers. Further experiments with sterilization or microbe inoculation may confirm the contribution of specific taxa or microbial community structures to the observed effects on seed performances.
Scopus Subject Areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- ideas for specific organisms
- interspecific interaction