Bird Pollination of the Climbing Heath Prionotes Cerinthoides (Ericaceae)
Johnson, K and McQuillan, PB and Kirkpatrick, JB, Bird Pollination of the Climbing Heath Prionotes Cerinthoides (Ericaceae), International Journal of Plant Sciences, 171, (2) pp. 147-157. ISSN 1058-5893 (2010) [Refereed Article]
Tubular red and pink flowers often indicate bird pollination. Prionotes cerinthoides, a climbing shrub of the
temperate rainforest in Tasmania (Australia) and one of only two members of the most primitive clade of the
subfamily Styphelioideae (Ericaceae), has such flowers. We tested the hypothesis that P. cerinthoides is bird
pollinated using breeding system experiments, observations of flower visitors, and invertebrate trapping.
Flowering phenology, nectar availability, and flower damage were also recorded. Prionotes cerinthoides produced
little viable seed in the absence of a pollinator but selfed readily when pollination was facilitated. It appears that P.
cerinthoides depends largely on the pollination services of a single native bird species, the eastern spinebill
(Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris). The only other flower visitor observed to contact anthers and stigma was the
introduced bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). The crescent honeyeater (Phylidonyris pyrrhoptera), the introduced
honeybee (Apis mellifera), and the bumblebee were nectar robbers.
Keywords: Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, bird pollination, Epacridaceae, Meliphagidae, nectar robber, selfcompatible.
Online enhancement: appendix table.
An understanding of pollination ecology and breeding systems
is critical in the conservation management of vascular
plant species (Buchmann and Nabham 1996; Koptur 2006;
Kwak and Bekker 2006). It has been suggested that particular
morphological features of flowers are associated with particular
pollination systems (Faegri and van der Pijl 1979), although
the correspondence can be unreliable (Hingston and
McQuillan 2000; Robertson et al. 2005). Red and pink tubular
flowers have been thought to be indicative of bird pollination
(Faegri and van der Pijl 1979). There are many data to
support this proposition, but the occasional exception exists.
For example, in a temperate rainforest in southern Chile, one
hummingbird, Sephanoides sephanoides Molina, was recor
ded as the main visitor to 14 red- or pink-flowered plants
spanning a wide range of life-forms, including vines, epiphytes,
hemiparasites, shrubs, and trees (Armesto et al. 1996),
while the South American scarlet-red, long-tubular-flowered
Ourisia poeppigii Benth., despite its ornithophilous phenotype,
is highly self-compatible and strongly autogamous
(Arroyo and Penaloza 1990). The morphological and phenological
features of flowers are thought to impose constraints
on the modes of pollination (Lloyd and Schoen 1992). Many
epacrids have both protandry and well-separated anthers and
stigmas (Keighery 1996).
The unusual climbing heath, Prionotes cerinthoides (Labill.)
R.Br., is endemic to temperate rainforest, subalpine, and alpine