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Insects drive evolution of flower traits

by webdev

October 18, 2010

A study from Cornell's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology has proved that flower-pollinating insects are agents of flower morphology, reports R&D Magazine.

Scientists have long hypothesized that bees, butterflies and hummingbirds had a direct effect in promoting certain flower characteristics due to the insects' and birds' preferences and role as pollinators.

For the experiment, researchers divided flowers in a field into two groups of 150. They allowed bees to pollinate one group, and hand-pollinated every flower in the second.

The goal of the study was to assess whether pollinators exerted natural selection on seven floral traits. To test their theory, scientists would compare flower traits between insect-pollinated flowers and those that were hand-pollinated.

The scientists found that the insect-pollinated plants had more flowers and were bigger in size compared to the hand-pollinated group. The results defined insects as agents of selection for both the number of flowers and flower size.

"These findings are important because it is only by understanding the agents of natural selection that we understand why evolutionary change occurs," Amy Parachnowitsch, the research paper's lead author, told the news source.

Scientists also discovered that large-sized flowers were bad for the plant due to inbreeding, which led to bigger, more obvious plants which attract herbivores that eat both the flowers and their seeds.

Though large blooms are not always good for a plant, many flowers come in miniature versions of the bigger blossoms such as daffodils, roses, and irises, according to


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