Moth pollination, low seed set, and vestigialization of attractive floral traits in Abronia umbellata (Nyctaginaceae)
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Flowering plants display remarkable phenotypic diversity, especially in reproductive structures, much of which is thought to be associated with pollination by animals. Pollination syndromes are collections of floral traits (e.g. flower colour, shape, odour) that are associated with a plant attracting particular functional groups of animal pollinators. We explored the extent to which traits associated with the moth pollination syndrome translated into pollination by moths in the Pacific coast dune endemic Abronia umbellata and found mixed results: in one year of study, there was no difference in seed set by day- vs. night-pollinated inflorescences, but in another year of study, night-pollinated inflorescences set significantly more seed than those pollinated during the day. We integrate this work with tests of pollen and resource limitation of seed production and with seed set surveys of natural populations to address proximate and ultimate causes of low seed set, finding low rates of pollinator visitation, high pollen limitation of seed production in all populations studied, and no evidence of endogenous resource limitation of seed production. We propose that “excess” flowers may be functionally male, serving to increase outcross siring success. The transition from self-incompatibility and obligate outcrossing to self-compatibility and predominant selfing is the most common evolutionary transition among the flowering plants and traits associated with outcrossing may become reduced across such shifts, potentially through the action of natural selection, especially if pollinators are also herbivores, or if the signals that pollinators use to locate flowers are also used by herbivores. We examined the reduction of attractive visual and olfactory floral traits in A. umbellata across a shift from outcrossing to selfing and found a reduction of all floral traits considered. We found that floral volatile emissions were reduced more strongly than flower size or floral display (number of flowers per inflorescence), but there was no evidence of an ecological cost associated with conspicuousness: we did not find reduced leaf herbivory among selfers relative to outcrossers.