Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A bumblebee flying towards foxgloves.

In Europe, bumblebees pollinate the flowers called foxgloves, but foxgloves that spread to the Americas are also pollinated by hummingbirds and have evolved as a result. Credit: Getty


Flowers adapt to welcome the birds — but not the bees

Once in the Americas, foxgloves swiftly evolved under pressure by pollinating hummingbirds.

Evolution can forge new relationships between plants and pollinators in fewer than 85 generations.

The showy purple flowers called common foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are native to Europe, where they are pollinated by bumblebees. When admiring humans took the foxglove to the Americas, it was enthusiastically embraced by a new guild of nectar-drinkers — the hummingbirds.

Maria Clara Castellanos at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, and her colleagues tallied visitors to foxgloves in the United Kingdom, Colombia and Costa Rica during more than 2,000 3-minute study periods. They found that hummingbirds pollinate up to 27% of foxgloves in Colombia and Costa Rica, where the flowers’ corollas — the long purple tubes that gardeners love so much — are 13% and 26% longer, respectively, than those of UK foxgloves.

So why would foxgloves with longer corollas do better? Plants with corollas too long for bumblebees to reach their nectar are guaranteed to be pollinated by hummingbirds, which are more effective than bees at depositing pollen on the next flower. The longer corolla also creates a more comfortable fit for a hovering hummingbird, perhaps improving pollination rates.

Hummingbirds can travel further between flowers than can bees, which might reduce plant inbreeding.

More Research Highlights...

Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty


Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty


A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing


Quick links