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Nutrient availability affects floral scent much less than other floral and vegetative traits in Lithophragma bolanderi.


Background and aims

Many plant-pollinator interactions are mediated by floral scents that can vary among species, among populations within species and even among individuals within populations. This variation could be innate and unaffected by the environment, but, because many floral volatiles have amino-acid precursors, scent variation also could be affected by differences in nutrient availability among environments. In plants that have coevolved with specific pollinators, natural selection is likely to favour low phenotypic plasticity in floral scent even under different conditions of nutrient availability if particular scents or scent combinations are important for attracting local pollinators.


Clonal pairs of multiple seed-families of two Lithophragma bolanderi (Saxifragaceae) populations were subjected to a high and a low nutrient treatment. These plants are pollinated primarily by host-specific Greya moths. It was evaluated how nutrient treatment affected variation in floral scent relative to other vegetative and reproductive traits.

Key results

Floral scent strength (the per-flower emission rate) and composition were unaffected by nutrient treatment, but low-nutrient plants produced fewer and lighter leaves, fewer scapes and fewer flowers than high-nutrient plants. The results held in both populations, which differed greatly in the number and composition of floral scents produced.


The results reveal a strong genetic component both to scent composition and emission level, and partly contrasts with the only previous study that has assessed the susceptibility of floral volatile signals to variation in the abundance of nutrients. These results, and the tight coevolutionary relationship between Lithophragma plants and their specialized Greya moth pollinators, indicate that reproductive traits important to coevolving interactions, such as the floral scent of L. bolanderi, may be locally specialized and more canalized than other traits important for plant fitness.

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