CIE Seminar Series 2015 – The artifice of flowers: Linking pollinator behaviour to floral evolution

Michael WhiteheadSPEAKER: Dr Michael Whitehead, Research Fellow, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra
DATE: Friday, 3rd July 2015
LOCATION: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, room T3.05
TIME: 12:00 noon
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, room ka5.303; and Warrnambool Campus, room G1.01

ABSTRACT: The majority of flowering plants engage animals to carry out the essential service of pollination. The behaviour of animals therefore exerts a profound influence on the evolution of flowers and important evolutionary processes such as mating. In this seminar I discuss the consequences of animal behaviour for pollination and floral evolution in two unique systems.

Sexually deceptive orchids attract mate-seeking wasps through a precise chemical mimicry of female wasp sex pheromones. Combining population genetics and studies of wasp behaviour I will show how exploitation of mate-seeking behaviour provides a solution to the problem flowers face of simultaneously attracting pollinators and persuading them to leave quickly. I also demonstrate how this unique pollination system underpins diversity and speciation.

While plants rely on animals for mating, some pollinators in turn rely on plants for food. A pollinator’s cognition and perception is therefore honed through a combination of learning and evolution to optimally exploit the resources provided by flowers. I will show how the visual ecology of a South African keystone fly pollinator is shaped by the floral community in which it forages.

BIO: Michael was awarded his PhD in 2012 from the Australian National University for a study on pollination in east Australian sexually deceptive orchids. He has conducted postdoctoral research with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa on specialist plant-pollinator interactions.

He is currently a research fellow with the Australian National University and Kings Park Botanic Garden, investigating the specialist plant-fungi interactions of Western Australia’s remarkable orchids. Michael is also a keen natural history photographer.

Appointments with guest speaker may be made via Matthew Symonds

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