Community-wide integration of floral colour and scent in a Mediterranean scrubland

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution 115021510 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0298-0
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Angiosperm flowers have evolved a dazzling palette of colours and a rich bouquet of scents, principally serving to attract pollinators. Despite recent progress in the ecology of pollination, the sensory floral traits that are important for communication with pollinators (for example, colour and scent) have not been assessed in an unbiased, integrative sense within a community context. Nonetheless, floral sensory stimuli are known key factors that mediate flower visitation, thus affecting community dynamics. Here we show that flowers of the phrygana, a natural Mediterranean scrubland, display integrated patterns of scent composition and colour (as perceived by pollinators). Surprisingly, the data reveal predictive relationships between patterns of volatile composition and flower reflectance spectra. The presence of nectar is related to visual cues and the qualitative composition of floral aromas. Our results reveal a coordinated phenotypic integration consistent with the sensory abilities and perceptual biases of bees, suggesting potential facilitative effects for pollination and highlighting the fundamental importance of bees in Mediterranean-type ecosystems. We offer our unbiased approach as a starting point for more extensive, global investigations of the diversity of floral sensory phenotypes and its role in the community ecology of plant–pollinator interactions.

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This research was co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund) and Greek national funds through the operational programme ‘Education and Lifelong Learning’ of the National Strategic Reference Framework – Research Funding Program: Heraclitus II (2324-1/WP17/30340). A.K. and T.P. are grateful to T. Lekkas, M. Aloupi, T. Tscheulin, P. Davies, T. Kallimanis, O. Davias, Korres S.A. Natural Products, O.-I. Kalantzi and P. Magiatis for multifaceted support.

Author information


  1. Laboratory of Biogeography and Ecology, Department of Geography, University of the Aegean, Mytilene, 81100, Greece

    • Aphrodite Kantsa
    •  & Theodora Petanidou
  2. Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA

    • Robert A. Raguso
  3. Department of Media and Communication, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, 3000, Victoria, Australia

    • Adrian G. Dyer
  4. Department of Physiology, Monash University, Melbourne, 3800, Victoria, Australia

    • Adrian G. Dyer
  5. Department of Ecology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, 54124, Greece

    • Stefanos P. Sgardelis
  6. Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Aarhus, 8000, Denmark

    • Jens M. Olesen


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A.K. and T.P. designed the study. A.K. collected the data and performed chemical analyses. A.K., A.G.D., R.A.R. and S.P.S. analysed the data. The manuscript was written primarily by A.K. with major contributions by all other co-authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aphrodite Kantsa.

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