The Disassortative Pollen Flow Hypothesis proposed by Darwin postulates that the relative position of anthers and stigmas in distylous flowers enhances pollen flow between flowers of different morphs (legitimate pollination), in comparison to flow between flowers of the same morph (illegitimate pollination). In order to test this hypothesis, we measured pollen transport, mediated by a trained Copper-rumped Hummingbird (Amazilia tobaci), between flowers of the distylous Palicourea fendleri under laboratory conditions. In individual tests, we offered to the hummingbird a pollen donor flower and two emasculated recipient flowers in a controlled sequence. After each foraging bout, we counted the number of pollen grains transported from the donor flower to the stigmas of both recipient flowers. In agreement with Darwin's hypothesis, we found that hummingbirds transport pollen of "pin" flowers in significantly higher numbers to legitimate "thrum" stigmas, even if previously visiting a "pin" flower. However, "thrum" pollen was deposited in greater numbers on illegitimate "thrum" stigmas. We interpret this asymmetry largely as the consequence of floral morphology; pollen flow was greater between anthers and stigmas that exhibit greater spatial matching. In P. fendleri, the position of floral organs along the corolla tube does not always precisely correspond. In our experimental system, the probability that the pollinator extracts a pollen grain from the anther and the probability of self-pollination were both dependent on the type of floral morph. We discuss the relevance of the latter findings in relation to other studies of pollen flow in heterostylous species.
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