Dr. Antonina Internicola

Research interest

1. Plant-insect interactions
2. Plant reproduction, maintenance and community ecology
3. Insect behavior and sensory abilities

Research focus

    I am interested in various aspects of plant-pollinator interactions and their consequences for both pollinators and plants. In particular, I study the effects of floral and display traits on pollinator foraging behavior, learning and efficiency. I also investigate how plant phenotypic traits affect pollinator attraction and plant reproduction.  As a specific case of this problematic, I work on the pollination ecology of food-deceptive orchids. While working on these questions, I developed a growing interest in understanding the sensory abilities of pollinators and how they perceive flowers. 

Pollinator learning and efficiency



Generalist flower visitors such as bees must continually collect nectar and pollen to fulfill the nutritional needs of their colony. Their survival depends on their effectiveness in choosing flowers offering sufficient amounts of food to balance the costs of foraging. When inexperienced, bees choose flowers according to innate preferences. When they gain experience, bees learn to associate floral traits to the presence or absence of reward. These learning abilities allow bees to focus their visits to a restricted number of rewarding species that they have learned to handle, thus increasing their foraging efficiency. However, bee learning depends on the conditions (e.g. characteristics of the plant community, similarity and conspicuousness of floral displays, inflorescence architecture) in which it is formed. Using artificial inflorescences and captive bumble bees, I study how floral and display traits affect bee learning and efficiency.

Phenotypic determinants of plant reproductive success



The reproduction of outcrossing plants depends on the quantity and quality of pollen transfers among conspecifics. For animal-pollinated species, the number of pollinator visits determines the quantity of pollen received and exported. As a result, individual plants that attract more pollinators have increased opportunities for mating. Many phenotypic traits can affect plant attractiveness to pollinators. These include, but are not restricted to, plant height, flower color, display size or nectar volume and concentration. Using natural populations and nearly isogenic lines of Petunia axillaris, we investigate the importance of various phenotypic traits on plant reproduction.

Generalized food-deceptive pollination in orchids



Most animal-pollinated angiosperms produce food rewards to maintain high pollinator visitation rates, thus ensuring high reproductive success. However, some plant species lack rewards and deceive their pollinators. Food-deception is especially widespread within the Orchidaceae family. Most food-deceptive orchids exhibit general floral traits typical of rewarding species (e.g. inflorescence shape, flower color, spurs) and exploit the innate foraging behavior of generalist pollinators. This pollination strategy is termed generalized food-deception. Interestingly, pollinators can learn to avoid deceptive flowers, which negatively impacts on the reproduction of generalized food-deceptive orchids. However, pollinator learning can vary according to the conditions (e.g. floral traits of co-flowering plant species, plant spatial or temporal distribution) in which it takes place. As a result, the reproductive success of generalized food-deceptive orchids varies according to the characteristics of the plant community in which they flower. Using lab and field experiments, I study the effects of various ecological conditions on the reproduction of generalized food-deceptive orchids.


Internicola AI and Harder LD. In press. 2012. Bumble-bee learning selects for both early and long flowering in food-deceptive plants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 279:1539-1543.

Pellissier L, Vittoz P, Internicola AI and Gigord LDB. 2010. The constraints of altitude and flowering phenology on generalized food-deceptive orchids. Journal of Plant Ecology 3: 243-250.

Burkhardt A, Internicola AI and Bernasconi G. 2009. Effects of pollination timing on seed paternity and seed mass in Silene latifolia (Caryophyllaceae). Annals of Botany 104: 767-773.

Internicola AI, Page PA, Bernasconi G and Gigord LDB. 2009. Carry-over effects of bumblebee associative learning in changing plant communities leads to increased costs of foraging. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 3: 17-26.

Internicola AI, Bernasconi G and Gigord LDB. 2008. Should a food-deceptive species flower before or after rewarding species? An experimental test of pollinator visitation behaviour under contrasting phenologies. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21: 1358-1365.

Internicola AI, Page PA, Bernasconi G and Gigord LDB 2007. Competition for pollinator visitation between deceptive and rewarding artificial inflorescences: an experimental test of the effects of floral colour similarity and spatial mingling. Functional Ecology 21: 864-872.

Internicola AI, Juillet N, Smithson A and Gigord LDB. 2006. Experimental investigation of the effect of spatial aggregation on reproductive success in a rewardless orchid. Oecologia 150: 435-441.


Dr. Antonina Internicola, Post-doc

mail: nina.internicola@gmail.com


Ph.D. in Ecology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, 2008.
M.Sc. in Biology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, 2004.