Effects of tomatillo cultivar on floral phenotype and bee visitation
Pollinators provide critical ecosystem services to some of the most nutritious crop species. Therefore, it is critical to understand the factors that contribute to pollination in pollinator-dependent crops. Variation in flower traits can affect bee attraction and visitation rates in wild systems, but we lack an understanding of how floral traits affect crop pollination and productivity. To understand how intraspecific variation in floral traits affects pollination in Physalis philadelphica (tomatillo), we measured floral depth, width and corolla opening on flowers of 17 cultivars of tomatillo. Additionally, we assessed the number of floral visitors to each cultivar and tested whether floral morphology or cultivar affected bee visitation. We found that flower phenotype varied by tomatillo cultivar, and that bees showed preference based on cultivar. However, floral morphology had only a marginal effect on bee visitation. Though previous studies in different species found that flower morphology is a strong predictor of bee visitation, it also appears that non-morphological traits drive bee preference for different species. There are other traits that can explain why there is significant effect of tomatillo variety on bee visitation, for example, pollen and nectar volume or quality. This information should be considered in plant breeding to improve plant-pollinator interactions for better productivity and yield and ecological conservation.
My time in the Thaler Lab was truly inspiring. I became a scientist by learning how to address complex questions. I was more mindful of the amount of resources and time it takes to produce an answer for each question. With the guidance of my mentor, we demonstrated how different tomatillo cultivars had a range of bee visitation rates. By studying the way fear affects the behavior of prey offspring as well as plant-pollinator interactions, I had the opportunity to assist in multiple projects and experience the expansive nature of the entomology field. When I arrived at the lab, I was inquisitive about the research process. My mentor comprehensively explained each aspect of the projects and taught me the proper laboratory techniques for our work. Everyone was supportive and helped me on my journey as a scientist. I read fascinating research about the effects of floral traits on pollination effectiveness and visitation, which helped narrow my research interests. As an aspiring scientist, I also developed my public communication skills by participating in community outreach projects. As I begin my undergraduate studies, I will use my experience at BTI as a springboard for engaging with the dynamic community of biological research.