Patterns of flower complexity in plant communities

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Coevolution between plants and their animal pollinators has selected for diverse flower shapes. Simple flower morphologies are accessible to a wide range of animal visitors, whereas only a subset of specialised pollinators are able to feed fromcomplex flowers and pollinate them. The implications of flower shape for plant reproductive success, and the genetic mechanisms that govern shape development, are well studied in some plant species. This article aims to synthesise a smaller body of research, which deals with the distribution of flower shapes at the plant community level. Simple, dish-shaped radially symmetrical flowers or inflorescences comprise the most common morphology in many floras. It has been suggested that simple flowers are selectively favoured when generalised pollinators (such as flies and small bees) are dominant among the local flower visitors. This was proposed to occur (i) on islands, (ii) towards the end of flowering seasons, (iii) at high elevations, (iv) in forest canopies, and (v) during late successional stages. Predictions 1-4 are supported by field surveys of different floras, while there is only weak evidence for the last prediction. The last section of the paper discusses the need for a floral complexity index that will reflect the empirically measured accessibility of flowers to different pollinator guilds. Eco-informatic approaches are advocated for future exploration of community-level floral complexity patterns and their relation to the community composition of flower visitors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-660
Number of pages18
JournalAnnual Plant Reviews Online
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grant #250/16 from the Israel Science Foundation. The thank Simcha Lev-Yadun, Gidi Ne’eman and Yuval Sapir for helpful comments on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • Eco-informatics
  • Elevation
  • Flower morphology
  • Island
  • Phenology
  • Plant community
  • Pollination
  • Succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science
  • Food Science
  • Horticulture


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