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Specialized bird perch aids cross-pollination

A plant scores by providing an access point for visiting sunbirds to feed on its nectar.


Birds may hover over or perch on flowers when feeding on nectar1, and this assists cross-pollination if they then visit other plants. Here we investigate the curious sterile inflorescence axis of the South African Cape endemic ‘rat's tail’ plant (Babiana ringens, Iridaceae), whose function — unlike in other bird-pollinated plants — is exclusively to provide a perch for foraging birds. We find that this structure promotes the plant's mating success by causing the malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), its main pollinator, to adopt a position ideal for the cross-pollination of its unusual ground-level flowers.

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Figure 1: Features of the South African plant Babiana ringens.


Figure 2: The specialized bird perch of Babiana ringens increases mating success.

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Correspondence to Spencer C. H. Barrett.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Anderson, B., Cole, W. & Barrett, S. Specialized bird perch aids cross-pollination. Nature 435, 41–42 (2005).

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