The potential for selection on pollen colour dimorphisms in Nigella degenii: morph-specific differences in pollinator visitation, fertilisation success and siring ability
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Two subspecies of Nigella degenii (Ranunculaceae) possess a dimorphism in pollen colour and vary extensively in frequency of the two morphs in natural populations. Here we investigate the role of selection on pollen colour during the pollination phase in the two subspecies and its potential contribution to the maintenance of this colour variation. In a combination of common garden experiments and field observations, we obtained data on pollinator visitation rates and explored the effect of pollen colour on fertilisation success and siring ability under conditions of low vs. high pollen competition. In experimental gardens, naive pollinators responded differently to plants with different pollen colour, but the favoured morph varied between dates and locations, and colour morphs were not visited in a frequency-dependent manner. Donor plants with dark pollen had a reproductive advantage (higher seed set) in single-donor pollinations, but the realised siring ability (measured by progeny morph ratio) was highly variable between different two-donor crosses with no general bias towards the light or dark morph. Therefore, although the dark pollen type appears to have a general selective advantage in terms of fertilisation success, our data are also consistent with a scenario involving the maintenance of both colour morphs, particularly under conditions of high pollen competition, a variable genetic background and/or spatial or temporal variation in the pollinator fauna.