How specialized is the plant-pollinator association between Eucalyptus globulus ssp. globulus and the swift parrot Lathamus discolor?
Hingston, AB and Gartrell, BD and Pinchbeck, G, How specialized is the plant-pollinator association between Eucalyptus globulus ssp. globulus and the swift parrot Lathamus discolor?, Austral Ecology, 29, (6) pp. 624-630. ISSN 1442-9985 (2004) [Refereed Article]
The swift parrot Lathamus discolor (Shaw) (Psittacidae) evolved from granivorous ancestors to become a specialized flower-feeder in a monotypic genus. Its reproduction is dependent largely on flowers of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. ssp. globulus (Myrtaceae), the birds migrating to breed within the natural distribution of this tree. This paper investigates the extent to which this dependence of L. discolor on E. globulus is mirrored by dependence of the tree on the bird. It was found that L. discolor carried significantly more eucalypt pollen within 22 mm of its bill tip than did the New Holland honeyeater, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae (Latham) (Meliphagidae), and that pollen was concentrated on the regions of the head of L. discolor that consistently contact stigmas. Larger pollen loads on L. discolor can be attributed to it consuming both pollen and nectar, while honeyeaters take nectar only. The short thick bill of L. discolor necessitates regular stigmatic contact while the long slender bills of honeyeaters are unlikely to contact stigmas as often in these bowl-shaped flowers. These factors suggest that L. discolor has a greater capacity to deposit pollen on stigmas of E. globulus than do honeyeaters. However, the characteristics of L. discolor that make it such an effective pollinator of E. globulus are also exhibited by a lorikeet (Psittacidae) that feeds on flowers of E. globulus. The association between E. globulus and L. discolor is therefore only moderately specialized because the flowers are also adapted to the more recently associated lorikeet and are almost certainly also pollinated by honeyeaters.