Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2006, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (4): 695-702.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2006.0091

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles


ZHANG Yan-Wen1, WANG Yong2, GUO You-Hao1,*   

  1. 1 College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
    2 Shaanxi University of Technology, Hanzhong, Shaanxi 723001, China
  • Received:2005-10-09 Accepted:2005-12-19 Online:2006-07-30 Published:2006-07-30
  • Contact: GUO You-Hao


The relationship between plant and pollinator is considered as a mutualism because plant benefits from the pollinator's transport of male gametes. Nectar robbers are frequently described as cheaters in the plant-pollinator mutualism, because it is assumed that they obtain a reward (nectar) without providing a service (pollination). Nectar robbers are birds, insects, or flower visitors that remove nectar from flowers through a hole pierced or bitten in the corolla. Nectar robbing represents a complex relationship between animals and plants. Whether plants benefit from the relationship is always the controversial part in earlier studies. This paper is to review the recent literatures on nectar robbing and attempt to acquire an expanded understanding of the ecological and evolutionary roles that robbers play. Understanding the effects of nectar robbers on the plants that they visited and other flower visitors is especially important when one considers the high rates of robbing that a plant population may experience and the high percentage of all flower visitors that nectar robbers make to some species.
There are two standpoints in explaining why animals forage on flowers and steal nectar in an illegitimate behavior. One is that animals can only get food in illegitimate's way because of the mismatch of the morphologies of animals' mouthparts and floral structure. The other point of view argues that nectar robbing is a relatively more efficient, thus more energy-saving way for animals to get nectar from flowers. This is probably associated with the difficulty of changing attitudes that have been held for a long time. In the case of positive effect, the bodies of nectar robbers frequently touch the sex organs of plants during their visiting to the flowers and causing pollination. The neutral effect, nectar robbers' behavior may destruct the corollas of flowers, but they neither touch the sex organs nor destroy the ovules. Their behavior don't affect the fruit sets or seed sets of the hosting plant. Beside the direct impacts on plants, nectar robbers may also have an indirect effect on the behavior of the legitimate pollinators. In some circumstances, the change in pollinator behavior could result in improved reproductive fitness of plants through increased pollen flow and out-crossing.

Key words: Plant reproductive ecology, Nectar robbing, Host, Legitimate pollinator, Reproductive fitness