Using geometric morphometrics to determine the “fittest” floral shape: A case study in large-flowered, buzz-pollinated Meriania hernandoi

Agnes S. Dellinger, Daniela Hanusch, Mario Oswald, Diana Fernández-Fernández, Jürg Schönenberger

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Abstract Premise Floral shape (relative arrangement and position of floral organs) is critical in mediating fit with pollinators and maximizing conspecific pollen transfer particularly in functionally specialized systems. To date, however, few studies have attempted to quantify flowers as the inherently three-dimensional (3D) structures they are and determine the effect of intraspecific shape variation on pollen transfer. We here addressed this research gap using a functionally specialized system, buzz pollination, in which bees extract pollen through vibrations, as a model. Our study species, Meriania hernandoi (Melastomataceae), undergoes a floral shape change from pseudocampanulate corollas with more actinomorphically arranged stamens (first day) to open corollas with a more zygomorphic androecium (second day) over anthesis, providing a natural experiment to test how variation in floral shape affects pollination performance. Methods In one population of M. hernandoi, we bagged 51 pre-anthetic flowers and exposed half of them to bee pollinators when they were in either stage of their shape transition. We then collected flowers, obtained 3D flower models through x-ray computed tomography for 3D geometric morphometric analyses, and counted the pollen grains remaining per stamen (male pollination performance) and stigmatic pollen loads (female pollination performance). Results Male pollination performance was significantly higher in open flowers with zygomorphic androecia than in pseudo-campanulate flowers. Female pollination performance did not differ among floral shapes. Conclusions These results suggest that there is an ?optimal? shape for male pollination performance, while the movement of bees around the flower when buzzing the spread-out stamens results in sufficient pollen deposition regardless of floral shape.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16183
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106008 Botany
  • 106012 Evolutionary research
  • 106042 Systematic botany


  • buzz pollination
  • geometric morphometrics
  • landmarks
  • Melastomataceae
  • pollen release
  • pollination performance
  • shape variation
  • stigmatic pollen loads
  • three-dimensional flower shape
  • x-ray computed tomography

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