Jeff Ollerton, Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Northampton, gave a wide-ranging and illuminating talk on his fascinating research into plant-pollinator diversification. Jeff’s work uses the highly diverse family the Apocynaceae to test the famous Grant-Stebbins’ model, which postulates that pollinators can drive plant speciation, so plant clades containing more species should have a greater diversity of pollinators.
Through collaboration with a widespread network of botanists worldwide, Jeff’s group have assembled a database of pollinators of the Apocynaceae, that can be used to explore biogeographic and phylogenetic patterns in plant-pollinator coevolution. Although most clades within the Apocyaneceae met the predictions of the Grant-Stebbins model, the sub-tribe Stapeliinae was a remarkable outlier, as a highly speciose plant clade within which Diptera were the dominant pollinators.
However, further scrutiny has revealed the immense diversity and complexity of fly pollination within the Stapeliinae, leading to the conclusion that few plant species may conform to “classical” pollination syndromes, and that the definitions of what constitutes pollinator diversity need to be revised.
For a non-subject expert like myself, Jeff’s talk provided a unique insight into this peculiar and fascinating group of plants, revealing just how much we still have to learn about plant-pollinator interactions. In a time of pollinator decline, studying the evolution and ecology of pollinators may be crucial to understanding their behaviour.