Aims Floral nectar plays a vital role in plant reproductive success by attracting pollinators. Nectar traits of a flower can depend directly on plant characteristics other than environmental factors and exhibit extensive flower- and plant-level variations. Studies on nectar traits frequently focused on intraplant variation for dichogamous plants, but few have paid attention to both intra- and interplant nectar variations in relation to plant characteristics. Revealing within- and among-plant variation and its relative magnitude is important for our understanding of how pollinator-mediated selection can act on nectar traits and evolution of nectar traits.
Methods Through investigating protandrous Aconitum gymnandrum populations at the Alpine Meadows and Wetland Ecosystems Research Station of Lanzhou University, we examined the relationships between nectar production per flower and plant characteristics (e.g. flower position within inflorescences, floral sexual phases, flowering time, inflorescence size and floral attractive traits).
Important findings A. gymnandrum exhibited a declining gradient in the nectar volume along inflorescences, with more nectar in basal flowers than distal ones. Protandrous flowers of A. gymnandrum did not show gender-biased nectar production while the nectar volume varied with different stages of floral sexual phases. The significant correlation between the first flowering date of individuals and the mean nectar volume per flower was positive in 2013, but became negative in 2014, suggesting complex effects of biotic and abiotic factors. The mean nectar volume per flower was not related to inflorescence size (the number of total flowers per plant). Furthermore, nectar production was weakly associated with floral attractive traits (the petal width and the galea height), even if the effect of flowering time of individuals was removed, suggesting that the honesty of floral traits as signals of nectar reward for pollinators is not stable in this species.