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The effect of pollination on flower life span has been widely studied, but so far little attention has been paid to the reproductive consequences of delayed pollination in plants with long floral life spans. In the present study, Polygala vayredae was used to answer the following questions. (1) How does male and female success affect the floral longevity of individual flowers? (2) How does delaying fertilization affect the female fitness of this species?
Floral longevity was studied after experimental pollinations involving male and/or female accomplishment, bagging and open pollination. The reproductive costs of a delay in the moment of fertilization were evaluated through fruit set, seed–ovule ratio and seed weight, after pollination of flowers that had been bagged for 2–18 d.
Senescence of the flowers of P. vayredae was activated by pollen reception on the stigmatic papillae, while pollen removal had no effect on floral longevity. Nonetheless, a minimum longevity of 8 d was detected, even after successful pollination and pollen dissemination. This period may be involved with the enhancement of male accrual rates, as the female accomplishment is generally achieved after the first visit. Floral life span of open-pollinated flowers was variable and negatively correlated with pollinator visitation rates. Delayed pollination had a major impact on the reproductive success of the plant, with fruit set, seed–ovule ratio and seed weight being significantly diminished with the increase of flower age at the moment of fertilization.
A strong relationship between pollination and floral longevity was observed. Flowers revealed the ability to extend or reduce their longevity, within some limits, in response to the abundance of efficient pollinators (i.e. reproductive fulfilment rates). Furthermore, with scarce or unpredictable pollinators, a long floral life span could maintain the opportunity for fertilization but would also have reproductive costs on production of offspring. Reduced female fitness late in the flower's life could shift the cost–benefit balance towards a shorter life span, partially counteracting the selection for longer floral life span potentially mediated by scarce pollination services.