Abstract

Identifying plant sexual dimorphic traits is critical in advancing our knowledge on plant-pollinator interactions. For example, dimorphism in floral colors, or sexual dichromatism, is a crucial mediator of pollinator choice on foraging decisions. We studied Cylindropuntia wolfii, a model system, with diverse flower colors and a functionally dioecious sexual system. However, evidence suggests that sexual reproduction is limited in this species as it has a low seed set especially in naturally pollinated fruits. Thus, it is critical to this native species' conservation to investigate its relationship with pollinators. Our goals were to: (a) investigate the sexual dimorphism including the sexual dichromatism in the flowers of the cactus, and (b) determine whether sexually dimorphic traits affect the pollinator attraction of both the sexes. We measured several quantitative and qualitative traits and compared them between male and female flowers. Then we recorded the pollinator visitation rate in nature for both sexes and tracked pollinator color preference using fluorescent dyes as pollen analogues. Our study showed that male flowers of C. wolfii are bigger and brighter, and they attract more potential pollinators than females, supporting the hypothesis that sexual dimorphism influences pollinator visitation preference. Fluorescence dichromatism, in which female flowers' anthers fluoresce more than male flower anthers suggest this could be female flowers' strategy to compensate for their dark colors and small size. The results from this study showed that C. wolfii exhibits sexual dichromatism and fluorescence dichromatism, which is a novel finding in plant research.

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