Nectar addition changes pollinator behavior but not plant reproduction in pollen-rewarding Lupinus argenteus

Jacob M. Heiling, Judith L. Bronstein, Rebecca E. Irwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


PREMISE: In addition to its role as the male gamete, pollen is often used as a food reward for pollinators. Roughly 20,000 species of angiosperms are strictly pollen-rewarding, providing no other rewards to their pollinators. However, the influence of this strategy on pollinator behavior and plant reproduction is poorly understood, especially relative to the nectar-reward strategy. We performed a field experiment using the strictly pollen-rewarding Lupinus argenteus to explore how the absence of nectar influences pollinator behavior and plant reproduction. METHODS: We added artificial nectar to Lupinus argenteus individuals to simulate a phenotype that would reward pollinators with both nectar and pollen. We compared bee pollinator behavior, via direct observation, and female reproduction between nectar-added and nectarless control plants. RESULTS: Bees exhibited behavioral responses to the novel reward, collecting nectar as well as pollen and spending 27% longer per flower. Pollen transfer increased with flower visit duration. However, plants in the study population were not pollen-limited; consequently, the observed changes in pollinator behavior did not result in changes in female components of plant reproduction. CONCLUSIONS: The addition of nectar to pollen-rewarding plants resulted in modest increases in per-flower pollinator visit duration and pollen transfer, but had no effect on reproduction because, at the place and time the experiment was conducted, plants were not pollen-limited. These results suggest that a pollen-only reward strategy may allow plants that are visited by pollen foragers to minimize some costs of reproduction by eliminating investment in other rewards, such as nectar, without compromising female plant fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-410
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Bombus
  • floral reward strategy
  • foraging
  • nectar addition
  • novel phenotype
  • pollen limitation
  • pollinator reward
  • single-visit deposition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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