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Dependence on sunbird pollination for fruit set in three West African montane mistletoe species

  • Kerry A. Weston (a1), Hazel M. Chapman (a1), Dave Kelly (a1) and Elena V. Moltchanova (a2)


Theory predicts that not all plant species will be equally affected by disruption to their pollinator mutualisms because traits such as breeding system and mutualism strength can affect their response. We investigated these traits in three species of Afromontane mistletoe Globimetula braunii, Agelanthus brunneus and A. djurensis in Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve, Nigeria, to test whether the traits were reliable indicators of relative reproductive success and could be used to predict relative vulnerability to pollinator loss. For each mistletoe species, insect and bird visitors were identified during a 160–240-min observation period of 4–10 plants and their roles in flower opening and fruit set were investigated using exclusion experiments applied to 250–500 flowers. We found that all three mistletoes are self-compatible but not capable of autonomous self-fertilization. The pollinator assemblage comprised four species of sunbird (Cyanomitris spp., Cinnyris spp.) and a small social wasp (Vespinae). None of the mistletoes requires birds for flower opening: G. braunii flowers self-opened in the absence of pollinators, whereas insects opened both Agelanthus spp. Irrespective of flower opening, each mistletoe species requires sunbirds for effective pollination and fruit set. Only G. braunii demonstrated pollen limitation (pollen limitation index = 0.504) which may be an early indication of mutualism breakdown. We suggest that mistletoes be considered as indicators of habitat condition and functioning within Afromontane forest ecosystems.


Corresponding author

1Corresponding author. Current address: Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Email:


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