Soil fungal effects on floral signals, rewards, and aboveground interactions in an alpine pollination web

Katie M. Becklin, Guadalupe Gamez, Bryan Uelk, Robert A. Raguso, Candace Galen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Premise of the study: Plants interact with above- and belowground organisms; the combined effects of these interactions determine plant fitness and trait evolution. To better understand the ecological and evolutionary implications of multispecies interactions, we explored linkages between soil fungi, pollinators, and floral larcenists in Polemonium viscosum (Polemoniaceae). Methods: Using a fungicide, we experimentally reduced fungal colonization of krummholz and tundra P. viscosum in 2008 - 2009. We monitored floral signals and rewards, interactions with pollinators and larcenists, and seed set for fungicide-treated and control plants. Key results: Fungicide effects varied among traits, between interactions, and with environmental context. Treatment effects were negligible in 2008, but stronger in 2009, especially in the less-fertile krummholz habitat. There, fungicide increased nectar sugar content and damage by larcenist ants, but did not affect pollination. Surprisingly, fungicide also enhanced seed set, suggesting that direct resource costs of soil fungi exceed indirect benefits from reduced larceny. In the tundra, fungicide effects were negligible in both years. However, pooled across treatments, colonization by mycorrhizal fungi in 2009 correlated negatively with the intensity and diversity of floral volatile organic compounds, suggesting integrated above- and belowground signaling pathways. Conclusions: Fungicide effects on floral rewards in P. viscosum link soil fungi to ecological costs of pollinator attraction. Traitspecific linkages to soil fungi should decouple expression of sensitive and buffered floral phenotypes in P. viscosum. Overall, this study demonstrates how multitrophic linkages may lead to shifting selection pressures on interaction traits, restricting the evolution of specialization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1299-1308
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Floral evolution
  • Fungicide
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Nectar larcenists
  • Polemoniaceae
  • Polemonium viscosum
  • Pollination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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