The role of pollinators in plant speciation and maintenance of species boundaries is dubious because most plant species are visited by several types of pollinators, and most pollinator species visit several species of plants. We investigated pollinator preferences and their efficacy as ethological isolation mechanisms between two interfertile species, Nicotiana alata and N. forgetiana and their F1 hybrids. Hawkmoths pollinate N. alata, while primarily hummingbirds and occasionally small hawkmoths visit N. forgetiana. F1 hybrids are easily produced in the greenhouse and although the species grow in similar habitats, hybrids have not been found in nature. In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, near where both species are found, experimental plots were studied containing both species, and both species plus F1 hybrids. In the mixed-species plots, hawkmoths showed a strong preference for N. alata. Hummingbirds were less common and only visited N. forgetiana. Hybrid seed was produced but plants made significantly fewer hybrid offspring than predicted by the frequency of interspecific pollinator movements. Nicotiana forgetiana was the seed parent of 97% of the F1 offspring, suggesting an asymmetry in pollen delivery or postpollination processes. In plots containing F1 hybrids plus both parental species, hawkmoths preferred N. alata and undervisited the other two phenotypes, except that in the third plot they visited hybrids in proportion to the hybrid frequency. Hummingbirds strongly preferred N. forgetiana in all plots but also visited F1 hybrids in proportion to their frequency in the third plot. Overall, F1 hybrids were well pollinated and were frequently visited immediately before or after one of the parental species. Thus hybrids could facilitate gene flow between the parental species. We conclude that pollinator discrimination among species is strong but is an imperfect isolation mechanism, especially if hybrids are present.
Vol. 58 • No. 12
Vol. 58 • No. 12