Pollination biology of Echinopsis leucantha (Cactaceae): passerine birds and exotic bees as effective pollinators.
Cactus flowers have traditionally been considered to be specialized to certain pollination guilds, but pollination studies reveal that most species are actually generalists. This suggests that floral traits are not always predictive of the animal visitors that pollinate cactus flowers. Here, we studied the pollination of Echinopsis leucantha (Gillies ex Salm-Dyck) Walp., an endemic cactus of Argentina, whose floral traits would suggest that it is pollinated by moths. The floral lifespan and flower availability throughout the reproductive period were evaluated. Field experiments were carried out to study the reproductive system and the identity and effectiveness of floral visitors. Echinopsis leucantha flowers had a nocturnal anthesis time that extended into the following morning. The species was self-incompatible. Floral visitors included moths, bees, and passerine birds. However, diurnal visitors were more effective as pollinators than nocturnal ones. The flowers of E. leucantha were phenotypically specialized (sphingophily); however, the pollination system was functionally and ecologically generalized. The results confirm that generalized pollination systems are widespread among species of the Echinopsis genus with nocturnal flowers, for which diurnal pollinators seem to have a key role in fruit and seed production. Our study constitutes the first record of passerine bird pollination in the Cactaceae for mainland South America.