Plant and Pollinator Adaptations

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1 Plant and Pollinator Adaptations Classroom Activity: 7-8 Time: Two minute class periods Overview: In this activity, students explore floral adaptations that attract pollinators and the characteristics of pollinator vectors. Integration with Project BudBurst Students participating in Project BudBurst study the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of a selected plant. Timing of these events can be very important to a plant s survival and/or reproductive success for example, flowering too early or too late may cause a mismatch in timing between the plant and its pollinators resulting in little or no pollination. As students make observations of their plant, particularly the timing of flowering, teachers may use the Plant and Pollinator Adaptations lesson to introduce the process of pollination. The lesson also introduces variation in pollinators, and that competition among plants for pollinators and competition among pollinators for food sources has resulted in some specialized relationships between pollinators and plants. As a natural extension to the lesson, students may explore which pollinator(s) are important to their study plant and when these pollinators are typically present. NOTE: The Pea Patch Pollination Game lesson works well after this lesson, giving students the opportunity to explore how pollinator preference may result in changes in plant populations over time. Learning Outcomes: Students will be able to: Describe the parts of a flower involved in pollination and how pollination works. Identify characteristics of flowers pollinated by bees or butterflies. Describe how adaptations in pollinators and flowers are advantageous to each. Page 1 of 10

2 Materials: Transparency of Figure 1a - General design of a flower Transparency of Figure 2 - Honeybee photo and diagram of mouthparts Transparency of Figure 3 - Butterfly photo and diagram of mouthparts Transparency of Table Adaptations of Pollinator Vectors and Flowering Plants Photocopies of the Plant and Pollinator Adaptations Data Collection Sheet (one per student) Field Guides of wildflowers (one per group of students) Colored paper Pipe cleaners Empty plastic beverage bottles, large and small Colored pens Scissors Tape Thumb tacks Paper clips Education Standards: Available at: Activity Part 1 (Discussion) 1) Talk to the students about flowers and why plants have flowers. Have them think about sexual reproduction and how important the resulting genetic variation is to natural selection. Since plants can t move around like animals can, ask students to think about how plants are able to reproduce sexually. Hint: they need a way to get their pollen from one plant to another. 2) Ask students what they know about the following pollinators: insects (bees, flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles), birds (hummingbirds in the U.S.), bats, and wind. Leaving wind aside, discuss with the students how plants attract pollinators. 3) Use a transparency of Figure 1a to explain pollen transfer. Introduce the idea of a plant producing nectar to attract pollinators. Use Figure 1b as a guide to draw in the common location of nectaries. Have the students discuss where the nectaries sit in relation to the stigma. Page 2 of 10

3 5) For the purpose of this activity, focus the students on two of the major pollinators: bees and butterflies. Use a transparency of Figure 2 to explain that bees are extremely important pollen vectors. They are also economically important for both honey production and many of our fruit crops. Bees use nectar to make honey to feed the hive and they also eat the pollen of flowers. Explain to the students that bees have a relatively short labium. 6) Use a transparency of Figure 3 to have students point out the differences between the mouthparts of bees and butterflies. Note how long the proboscis (galea) is on a butterfly. What does that enable the butterfly to do that bees can t do? 7) Now explain that flowers compete for pollinators, and pollinators compete for the food produced by flowers. As a result, both have co-evolved suites of adaptations for certain flower characteristics and certain pollinator characteristics. Use the Adaptations of Pollinator Vectors and Flowering Plants Table to point out the adaptations of these two pollinators and of the flowers typically pollinated by these two groups. Activity Part 2 (Investigation) 1) Explain to the students that they will be taking on the characteristics of the pollinators as they try to find food. Divide the class into small groups and assign each group to be a bee or butterfly pollinator. Provide wildflower field guides to each group, and have the students find as many different species of flower for their pollinator (bee or butterfly). 2) Have the students sketch each flower, record the flower name, colors, phenophase (flowering time), and habitat on the Plant and Pollinator Adaptations Data Collection Sheet. They must be able to justify why they think their pollinator would be able to pollinate this plant. 3) In the last 5-10 minutes of the class period, find out how many plants each group was able to describe and how confident they are that their pollinator might actually be a vector for that plant s pollen. Collect the data collection sheets. 4) Explain to the students that during the next class session each group will be challenged with building a flower. These flowers will be based on what they learned about their pollinators and the flowers they researched, but the scale will be much larger the nectaries will be plastic soda bottles. They should work as a group; they will need to bring or request specific materials they would like to use other than the general materials already provided (colored paper, pipe cleaners, pens, etc.). Page 3 of 10

4 Activity Part 3 (Summary) 1) Give the groups minutes to build an ideal flower (complete with stamen and pistils) for a giant-sized version of their pollinator. While they build their flowers, count the number of appropriately sized/shaped plants that would be available to the pollinator based on what the students recorded on the data collection sheets. 2) Have the groups present their flowers and share the justification for the characteristics they chose to include. 3) After their presentations, the teacher plays the role of cheater and illustrates how animals rob flowers of nectar without doing their jobs, or how other animal vectors (like hummingbirds or moths) might outcompete the group s pollinator and get the nectar rewards first. Reward the groups that survived and may have designed a flower that was cheat-proof. Suggested Extension Activity Have students explore the schoolyard for different flower types, using a field guide to identify the flowers. Based on floral characteristics, have students predict the type of pollinator that would be attracted to the flower. They can use the Adaptations of Pollinator Vectors and Flowering Plants table for more information. Students could also identify the type of pollinator(s) that would be attracted to the flower of their Project BudBurst study plant, and why. Students could also examine the timing of their study plant s flowering phase and whether their predicted pollinators are available at that time. For plants pollinated by wind, students could describe how wind pollination works. Background Information Sexual reproduction is vital to genetic diversity in plants, and the flower is the main apparatus for this important function. Many flowering plants rely on animals for crosspollination. These animals include insects, birds, and mammals such as: Insect pollinators: bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, beetles, and moths Bird pollinators: hummingbirds, honey creepers (Hawaii), sunbirds (Africa/Asia), and honeyeaters (Australasia) Mammals: bats Page 4 of 10

5 Animals seek out flowers for food, consuming nectar and pollen. In the course of their travels, these animals serve as vectors to disperse pollen, cross-pollinating plants and ensuring reproduction. Plants benefit because insects, birds, and bats may fly long distances between widely separated plants. But plants have to be attractive to pollinators. In fact, to bring about pollination, these pollinators must be attracted to the same species repeatedly. Attraction and competition among plants for pollinators and competition among pollinators for food sources has lead to specialized relationships between plants and the animals that are their pollinators. The interactions between the two different groups results in the co-evolution of characteristics of both plant and pollinator. Indeed, plants have developed elaborate methods to attract animal pollinators, and specialized body parts and behaviors that aid plant pollination are common in animals. Natural selection favored those flowering plants that were most attractive to pollinators and those pollinators were best able to get floral rewards. The result has been mobility in plant genes that rivals the mobility in animals. Here are some clever co-evolutionary quirks: Nectar of Queen Anne s lace flowers is right at the base of its tiny flowers, where pollinators with short proboscises such as honeybees, ants, wasps, flies, and beetles can reach it when they crawl on the flower. The long, curving columbine flower complements the long tongue of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. By concealing the nectar deep within its trumpet-like blossoms, the columbine prevents animals who are not its pollination partners from accessing the nectar. Petals may serve as landing platforms for visiting insects, and some function in the pollen transfer. For example, when a bee lands on the lower petal of the snapdragon, its weight causes the stamen to swing down and dust the bee with pollen. Petals of many plant species have lines or other marks that guide the pollinator to the nectar. These markings may not be visible to the human eye. Hummingbirds are usually attracted to red flowers. As it turns out, red flowers are typically loaded with especially rich nectar, instant energy for the fast-moving hummingbirds. Once an animal is attracted to a flower, it crawls around the blossom to find the nectar. In the process, the pollinator rubs against the pollen, which may become attached to different parts of the pollinator s body. The pollinator leaves and visits other blossoms. Stigma are strategically located on flowers of the same species, and the unsuspecting pollinator rubs up against the stigma, transferring the pollen grains from its body. The Page 5 of 10

6 pollen grain grows a tiny pollen tube down the style and into an egg-filled ovary. Eventually, the pollen and the egg form a seed. Student Assessment Suggestions: Teachers may use student group presentations of ideal flowers, and the Plant and Pollinator Adaptations Data Collection Sheets to assess understanding. Source: Adapted from Plant and Pollinator Adaptations, developed by Alison Perkins and ECOS (Ecologists Educators & Schools: Partners in GK-12 Education), The University of Montana. This teacher resource was made possible, in part, by support from the National Geographic Education Foundation. Page 6 of 10

7 Figure 1a: The general design of a flower Figure 1b: Common locations of nectaries on the flower. Adapted from Plant and animals: Partners in pollination. Smithsonian in your classroom. November/December Page 7 of 10

8 Page 8 of 10

9 Adaptations of Pollinator Vectors and Flowering Plants Vector Characteristics of Vector Characteristics of Flower bees Good sense of vision, smell Often have body hairs Can perceive depth, count petals Do not see true red see UV butterflies Active in day Have long, thin proboscis for nectar acquisition Can see red Alight on blossoms beetles, flies Good sense of smell Some lay eggs in rotting flesh hummingbirds Vision much like human see red Long bill and tongue, large body Little sense of smell Intelligent remember and return to flowers with abundant reward Active in day Approach flower and hover Often blue or yellow, with landing platform Often have markings that act as nectar guides, sometimes in UV spectrum Reduced numbers of floral parts Often irregular in shape May have deep tube or spur for nectar Open in day, emit some odor in day Landing platform Long corolla tube, narrow May be blue, purple, red, yellow May have nectar guide Dull colors, dark red, strong, spicy odor, or odor of rotting flesh, flat shape May have light window (flies) Red, large flowers with deep nectar tube and abundant nectar Little or no fragrance Open in day No landing platform No nectar guide moths (and bats in some areas) Most active at night Strong sense of smell Have long proboscis for nectar acquisition Open at dusk or night, emit sweet odor at night Often dull or white Long corolla, no landing platform wind Abiotic Inconspicuous, green or dull in color, petals reduced or absent, abundant and in canopy From: Parrish, Judy Pollination ecology: Field studies of insect visitation and pollen transfer rates. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology: Volume 2, August Page 9 of 10

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