Linking components of complex signals to morphological part: the role of anther and corolla in the complex floral display

Avery L. Russell, Kevin B. Mauerman, Rebekah E. Golden, Daniel R. Papaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Signals used in communication are frequently complex, being composed of multiple signal components that in combination improve information transfer. A variety of morphological parts are typically used to transmit components of any given complex signal. Our understanding of why a given morphological part is used to transmit a given signal component is poor. We hypothesized that the function of a given signal component is improved by its association with its morphological part and that such parts interact functionally to transmit information. In a laboratory study we characterized the function of different floral signal components transmitted by associated floral parts and the interaction of those signal components. Using Solanum houstonii flowers, we focused on two major floral parts, corolla and anthers, involved in signalling bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, visitors. We further examined how experience affected the relationship between signal component and floral part. Floral visits involve a stepwise process in which bees approach, land and acquire pollen. We found that the corolla plays the dominant role in eliciting approaches by bees, whether naïve or experienced. Landing is elicited by corolla signals and, to a lesser but additive degree, anther signals. Following experience, anther signals nearly completely dominate corolla signals in eliciting landing. The anthers convey signals mediating pollen acquisition, regardless of the bee's experience level. Our findings suggest there is selection for specific relationships between signal components and morphological parts, which in turn might drive complex signal evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-236
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • bumblebee
  • communication
  • complex signal
  • floral display
  • floral morphology
  • learning
  • multimodal cue
  • pollen
  • poricidal anther
  • signal interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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