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1.  Floral volatiles interfere with plant attraction of parasitoids: ontogeny-dependent infochemical dynamics in Brassica rapa 
BMC Ecology  2015;15:17.
The role of plant ontogeny on investment in direct defense against herbivores is well accepted, but the transition from the vegetative to the reproductive stage can also affect indirect resistance traits (i.e. attraction of the natural enemies of plant attackers). Here, we conducted behavioral bioassays in olfactometers to determine whether the developmental stage (vegetative, pre-flowering, and flowering) of Brassica rapa plants affects attraction of Cotesiaglomerata, a parasitoid of the herbivore Pieris brassicae, and examined the blends of volatile compounds emitted by plants at each developmental stage.
Pieris-infested plants were always more attractive to parasitoids than control plants and plants infested by a non-host herbivore, independently of plant developmental stage. On the other hand, the relative attractiveness of Pieris-infested plants was ontogeny dependent: Pieris-infested plants were more attractive at the pre-flowering stage than at the vegetative stage, and more attractive at the vegetative stage than at the flowering stage. Chemical analyses revealed that the induction of leaf volatiles after herbivory is strongly reduced in flowering plants. The addition of synthetic floral volatiles to infested vegetative plants decreased their attractiveness to parasitoids, suggesting a trade-off between signaling to pollinators and parasitoids.
Our results show that putative indirect resistance traits are affected by plant development, and are reduced during B. rapa reproductive stage. The effects of ontogenetic shifts in resource allocation on the behavior of members of the third trophic level may have important implications for the evolution of plant defense strategies against herbivores.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12898-015-0047-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4467598  PMID: 26031290
Plant ontogeny; Herbivore-induced plant volatiles; Indirect defense; Host location; Plant signaling; Floral VOCs
2.  Floral adaptation to local pollinator guilds in a terrestrial orchid 
Annals of Botany  2013;113(2):289-300.
Background and Aims
Studies of local floral adaptation in response to geographically divergent pollinators are essential for understanding floral evolution. This study investigated local pollinator adaptation and variation in floral traits in the rewarding orchid Gymnadenia odoratissima, which spans a large altitudinal gradient and thus may depend on different pollinator guilds along this gradient.
Pollinator communities were assessed and reciprocal transfer experiments were performed between lowland and mountain populations. Differences in floral traits were characterized by measuring floral morphology traits, scent composition, colour and nectar sugar content in lowland and mountain populations.
Key Results
The composition of pollinator communities differed considerably between lowland and mountain populations; flies were only found as pollinators in mountain populations. The reciprocal transfer experiments showed that when lowland plants were transferred to mountain habitats, their reproductive success did not change significantly. However, when mountain plants were moved to the lowlands, their reproductive success decreased significantly. Transfers between populations of the same altitude did not lead to significant changes in reproductive success, disproving the potential for population-specific adaptations. Flower size of lowland plants was greater than for mountain flowers. Lowland plants also had significantly higher relative amounts of aromatic floral volatiles, while the mountain plants had higher relative amounts of other floral volatiles. The floral colour of mountain flowers was significantly lighter compared with the lowland flowers.
Local pollinator adaptation through pollinator attraction was shown in the mountain populations, possibly due to adaptation to pollinating flies. The mountain plants were also observed to receive pollination from a greater diversity of pollinators than the lowland plants. The different floral phenotypes of the altitudinal regions are likely to be the consequence of adaptations to local pollinator guilds.
PMCID: PMC3890390  PMID: 24107683
Local adaptation; pollination; floral evolution; geographical variation; floral morphology; floral scent; VOC; floral colour; pollinator assemblages; pollinator adaptation; Diptera; Orchidaceae; speciation
3.  The promise of genomics in the study of plant-pollinator interactions 
Genome Biology  2013;14(6):207.
Flowers exist in exceedingly complex fitness landscapes, in which subtle variation in each trait can affect the pollinators, herbivores and pleiotropically linked traits in other plant tissues. A whole-genome approach to flower evolution will help our understanding of plant-pollinator interactions.
PMCID: PMC3707021  PMID: 23796166
Adaptation; coevolution; ecological genomics; hybridization; polyploidy; sensory systems; standing genetic variation; transcriptome
4.  Do Flower Color and Floral Scent of Silene Species affect Host Preference of Hadena bicruris, a Seed-Eating Pollinator, under Field Conditions? 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98755.
Specialization in plant–insect interactions is an important driver of evolutionary divergence; yet, plant traits mediating such interactions are poorly understood. In this study, we investigated how flower color and floral scent are related to seed predation by a seed-eating pollinator. We used field-transplanted recombinant F2 hybrids between Silene latifolia and S. dioica that are the preferred and alternative hosts of the moth Hadena bicruris and crosses within these species for comparison. We scored seed predation and flower color and analyzed floral scent. Pinker S. dioica-like flowers and emission of α-pinene decreased the odds of seed predation while emission of benzyl acetate and 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one increased the odds of seed predation. Emission of these compounds did not differ significantly between the two Silene species. Our results suggest that flower color plays an important role in the specific interaction of H. bicruris with its preferred host S. latifolia. The compounds α-pinene, benzyl acetate and 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one could represent non-specific deterrents and attractants to ovipositing moths. Alternatively, emission of these compounds could be related to herbivory or pathogen attack and act as a signal for host quality. This would weaken the predictability of the plant's costs and benefits of the interaction and act to maintain an imperfect degree of specialization.
PMCID: PMC4048206  PMID: 24905986
5.  Minority cytotypes in European populations of the Gymnadenia conopsea complex (Orchidaceae) greatly increase intraspecific and intrapopulation diversity 
Annals of Botany  2012;110(5):977-986.
Background and Aims
Patterns of ploidy variation among and within populations can provide valuable insights into the evolutionary mechanisms shaping the dynamics of plant systems showing ploidy diversity. Whereas data on majority ploidies are, by definition, often sufficiently extensive, much less is known about the incidence and evolutionary role of minority cytotypes.
Ploidy and proportions of endoreplicated genome were determined using DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) flow cytometry in 6150 Gymnadenia plants (fragrant orchids) collected from 141 populations in 17 European countries. All widely recognized European species, and several taxa of less certain taxonomic status were sampled within Gymnadenia conopsea sensu lato.
Key Results
Most Gymnadenia populations were taxonomically and/or ploidy heterogeneous. Two majority (2x and 4x) and three minority (3x, 5x and 6x) cytotypes were identified. Evolution largely proceeded at the diploid level, whereas tetraploids were much more geographically and taxonomically restricted. Although minority ploidies constituted <2 % of the individuals sampled, they were found in 35 % of populations across the entire area investigated. The amount of nuclear DNA, together with the level of progressively partial endoreplication, separated all Gymnadenia species currently widely recognized in Europe.
Despite their low frequency, minority cytotypes substantially increase intraspecific and intrapopulation ploidy diversity estimates for fragrant orchids. The cytogenetic structure of Gymnadenia populations is remarkably dynamic and shaped by multiple evolutionary mechanisms, including both the ongoing production of unreduced gametes and heteroploid hybridization. Overall, it is likely that the level of ploidy heterogeneity experienced by most plant species/populations is currently underestimated; intensive sampling is necessary to obtain a holistic picture.
PMCID: PMC3448425  PMID: 23002267
Coexistence; contact zone; cytogeography; flow cytometry; fragrant orchid; Gymnadenia; Orchidaceae; hybridization; mixed-ploidy population; polyploidy; sympatry; unreduced gametes
6.  Transcriptome and Proteome Data Reveal Candidate Genes for Pollinator Attraction in Sexually Deceptive Orchids 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64621.
Sexually deceptive orchids of the genus Ophrys mimic the mating signals of their pollinator females to attract males as pollinators. This mode of pollination is highly specific and leads to strong reproductive isolation between species. This study aims to identify candidate genes responsible for pollinator attraction and reproductive isolation between three closely related species, O. exaltata, O. sphegodes and O. garganica. Floral traits such as odour, colour and morphology are necessary for successful pollinator attraction. In particular, different odour hydrocarbon profiles have been linked to differences in specific pollinator attraction among these species. Therefore, the identification of genes involved in these traits is important for understanding the molecular basis of pollinator attraction by sexually deceptive orchids.
We have created floral reference transcriptomes and proteomes for these three Ophrys species using a combination of next-generation sequencing (454 and Solexa), Sanger sequencing, and shotgun proteomics (tandem mass spectrometry). In total, 121 917 unique transcripts and 3531 proteins were identified. This represents the first orchid proteome and transcriptome from the orchid subfamily Orchidoideae. Proteome data revealed proteins corresponding to 2644 transcripts and 887 proteins not observed in the transcriptome. Candidate genes for hydrocarbon and anthocyanin biosynthesis were represented by 156 and 61 unique transcripts in 20 and 7 genes classes, respectively. Moreover, transcription factors putatively involved in the regulation of flower odour, colour and morphology were annotated, including Myb, MADS and TCP factors.
Our comprehensive data set generated by combining transcriptome and proteome technologies allowed identification of candidate genes for pollinator attraction and reproductive isolation among sexually deceptive orchids. This includes genes for hydrocarbon and anthocyanin biosynthesis and regulation, and the development of floral morphology. These data will serve as an invaluable resource for research in orchid floral biology, enabling studies into the molecular mechanisms of pollinator attraction and speciation.
PMCID: PMC3667177  PMID: 23734209
7.  Identification of white campion (Silene latifolia) guaiacol O-methyltransferase involved in the biosynthesis of veratrole, a key volatile for pollinator attraction 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:158.
Silene latifolia and its pollinator, the noctuid moth Hadena bicruris, represent an open nursery pollination system wherein floral volatiles, especially veratrole (1, 2-dimethoxybenzene), lilac aldehydes, and phenylacetaldehyde are of key importance for floral signaling. Despite the important role of floral scent in ensuring reproductive success in S. latifolia, the molecular basis of scent biosynthesis in this species has not yet been investigated.
We isolated two full-length cDNAs from S. latifolia that show similarity to rose orcinol O-methyltransferase. Biochemical analysis showed that both S. latifolia guaiacol O-methyltransferase1 (SlGOMT1) &S. latifolia guaiacol O-methyltransferase2 (SlGOMT2) encode proteins that catalyze the methylation of guaiacol to form veratrole. A large Km value difference between SlGOMT1 (~10 μM) and SlGOMT2 (~501 μM) resulted that SlGOMT1 is 31-fold more catalytically efficient than SlGOMT2. qRT-PCR expression analysis showed that the SlGOMT genes are specifically expressed in flowers and male S. latifolia flowers had 3- to 4-folds higher level of GOMT gene transcripts than female flower tissues. Two related cDNAs, S. dioica O-methyltransferase1 (SdOMT1) and S. dioica O-methyltransferase2 (SdOMT2), were also obtained from the sister species Silene dioica, but the proteins they encode did not methylate guaiacol, consistent with the lack of veratrole emission in the flowers of this species. Our evolutionary analysis uncovered that SlGOMT1 and SlGOMT2 genes evolved under positive selection, whereas SdOMT1 and SdOMT2 genes show no evidence for selection.
Altogether, we report the identification and functional characterization of the gene, SlGOMT1 that efficiently catalyzes veratrole formation, whereas another copy of this gene with only one amino acid difference, SlGOMT2 was found to be less efficient for veratrole synthesis in S. latifolia.
PMCID: PMC3492160  PMID: 22937972
Floral scent; VOC; 1, 2-dimethoxybenzene; Pollination; Hadena bicruris
8.  The Genetic Basis of Pollinator Adaptation in a Sexually Deceptive Orchid 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(8):e1002889.
In plants, pollinator adaptation is considered to be a major driving force for floral diversification and speciation. However, the genetic basis of pollinator adaptation is poorly understood. The orchid genus Ophrys mimics its pollinators' mating signals and is pollinated by male insects during mating attempts. In many species of this genus, chemical mimicry of the pollinators' pheromones, especially of alkenes with different double-bond positions, plays a key role for specific pollinator attraction. Thus, different alkenes produced in different species are probably a consequence of pollinator adaptation. In this study, we identify genes that are likely involved in alkene biosynthesis, encoding stearoyl-acyl carrier protein (ACP) desaturases (SAD), in three closely related Ophrys species, O. garganica, O. sphegodes, and O. exaltata. Combining floral odor and gene expression analyses, two SAD homologs (SAD1/2) showed significant association with the production of (Z)-9- and (Z)-12-alkenes that were abundant in O. garganica and O. sphegodes, supporting previous biochemical data. In contrast, two other newly identified homologs (SAD5/6) were significantly associated with (Z)-7-alkenes that were highly abundant only in O. exaltata. Both molecular evolutionary analyses and pollinator preference tests suggest that the alkenes associated with SAD1/2 and SAD5/6 are under pollinator-mediated divergent selection among species. The expression patterns of these genes in F1 hybrids indicate that species-specific expression differences in SAD1/2 are likely due to cis-regulation, while changes in SAD5/6 are likely due to trans-regulation. Taken together, we report a genetic mechanism for pollinator-mediated divergent selection that drives adaptive changes in floral alkene biosynthesis involved in reproductive isolation among Ophrys species.
Author Summary
In plants, the extraordinary floral diversity has been suggested to be a consequence of divergent adaptation. However, the genetic basis of this process is poorly understood. In this study, we take advantage of the high specificity of plant-pollinator interactions in the sexually deceptive orchid genus Ophrys. We leverage the available, ample evidence showing that floral odors, especially alkenes, are the key factor for specific pollinator attraction in certain species of these orchids. Further, we investigate the genetic basis of pollinator adaptation. By applying an inter-disciplinary approach, including chemical ecology, gene expression analysis, population genetics, and pollinator-behavioral tests, we show that genetic changes in different copies of a biosynthetic gene are associated with the production of different floral scents and with pollinator adaptation in these orchid species. Moreover, we found that both cis- and trans-regulatory factors are likely involved in controlling gene expression of these biosynthetic gene copies. These findings support the hypothesis that adaptation is mediated by very few genetic changes with large phenotypic effects, rather than requiring a large number of co-adapted genes.
PMCID: PMC3420943  PMID: 22916031
9.  On the roles of colour and scent in a specialized floral mimicry system 
Annals of Botany  2009;104(6):1077-1084.
Background and Aims
Sexually deceptive orchids achieve cross-pollination by mimicking the mating signals of female insects, generally hymenopterans. This pollination mechanism is often highly specific as it is based primarily on the mimicry of mating signals, especially the female sex pheromones of the targeted pollinator. Like many deceptive orchids, the Mediterranean species Ophrys arachnitiformis shows high levels of floral trait variation, especially in the colour of the perianth, which is either green or white/pinkinsh within populations. The adaptive significance of perianth colour polymorphism and its influence on pollinator visitation rates in sexually deceptive orchids remain obscure.
The relative importance of floral scent versus perianth colour in pollinator attraction in this orchid pollinator mimicry system was evaluated by performing floral scent analyses by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and behavioural bioassays with the pollinators under natural conditions were performed.
Key Results
The relative and absolute amounts of behaviourally active compounds are identical in the two colour morphs of O. arachnitiformis. Neither presence/absence nor the colour of the perianth (green versus white) influence attractiveness of the flowers to Colletes cunicularius males, the main pollinator of O. arachnitiformis.
Chemical signals alone can mediate the interactions in highly specialized mimicry systems. Floral colour polymorphism in O. arachnitiformis is not subjected to selection imposed by C. cunicularius males, and an interplay between different non-adaptive processes may be responsible for the maintenance of floral colour polymorphism both within and among populations.
PMCID: PMC2766200  PMID: 19692390
Colletes cunicularius; floral odour; floral colour polymorphism; mimicry; Ophrys arachnitiformis; pollination by sexual deception; pollinator attraction
10.  Hybrid floral scent novelty drives pollinator shift in sexually deceptive orchids 
Sexually deceptive orchids of the genus Ophrys attract their pollinators, male insects, on a highly specific basis through the emission of odour blends that mimic the female sex pheromone of the targeted species. In this study, we have investigated a contact site between Ophrys arachnitiformis and O. lupercalis, two sympatric orchid species that are usually reproductively isolated via the exploitation of different pollinator "niches", but occasionally hybridise despite their apparent combination of ethological and mechanical isolation barriers. In particular, we have investigated the extent to which these Ophrys hybrids generate "emergent" combinations (i.e. novel and unpredictable from the parents' phenotypes) of floral traits, and how these phenotypic novelties, particularly the odour blends emitted by the flower, could facilitate the invasion of a novel pollinator "niche" and induce the rapid formation of reproductive isolation, a prerequisite for adaptive evolutionary divergence.
Our chemical analyses of floral scents show that the Ophrys F1 hybrids investigated here produce more compounds, significantly different ratios (% of odour compounds in the total blend), as well as new compounds in their floral odour compared to their progenitors. When tested for their attractiveness to the pollinator of each parent orchid species, we found that floral scent extracts of the hybrids triggered less inspecting flights and contacts by the male bees with the scented dummy than those of the parental orchid species. However, a series of additional behavioural bioassays revealed that the novel floral scent of the hybrids was significantly more attractive than either of the two parents to a pollinator species not initially involved in the pollination of any of the parent Ophrys species.
Collectively, our results illustrate that the process of hybridisation can lead to the generation of evolutionary novelties, and that novel combinations of floral traits can drive pollinator shifts and rapid reproductive isolation in highly specific plant-pollinator interactions.
PMCID: PMC2875231  PMID: 20409296
11.  How to be an attractive male: floral dimorphism and attractiveness to pollinators in a dioecious plant 
Sexual selection theory predicts that males are limited in their reproductive success by access to mates, whereas females are more limited by resources. In animal-pollinated plants, attraction of pollinators and successful pollination is crucial for reproductive success. In dioecious plant species, males should thus be selected to increase their attractiveness to pollinators by investing more than females in floral traits that enhance pollinator visitation. We tested the prediction of higher attractiveness of male flowers in the dioecious, moth-pollinated herb Silene latifolia, by investigating floral signals (floral display and fragrance) and conducting behavioral experiments with the pollinator-moth, Hadena bicruris.
As found in previous studies, male plants produced more but smaller flowers. Male flowers, however, emitted significantly larger amounts of scent than female flowers, especially of the pollinator-attracting compounds. In behavioral tests we showed that naïve pollinator-moths preferred male over female flowers, but this preference was only significant for male moths.
Our data suggest the evolution of dimorphic floral signals is shaped by sexual selection and pollinator preferences, causing sexual conflict in both plants and pollinators.
PMCID: PMC2738674  PMID: 19660122
12.  Variability in Floral Scent in Rewarding and Deceptive Orchids: The Signature of Pollinator-imposed Selection? 
Annals of Botany  2007;100(4):757-765.
Background and Aims
A comparative investigation was made of floral scent variation in the closely related, food-rewarding Anacamptis coriophora and the food-deceptive Anacamptis morio in order to identify patterns of variability of odour compounds in the two species and their role in pollinator attraction/avoidance learning.
Scent was collected from plants in natural populations and samples were analysed via quantitative gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Combined gas chromatography and electroantennographic detection was used to identify compounds that are detected by the pollinators. Experimental reduction of scent variability was performed in the field with plots of A. morio plants supplemented with a uniform amount of anisaldehyde.
Key Results
Both orchid species emitted complex odour bouquets. In A. coriophora the two main benzenoid compounds, hydroquinone dimethyl ether (1,4-dimethoxybenzene) and anisaldehyde (methoxybenzaldehyde), triggered electrophysiological responses in olfactory neurons of honey-bee and bumble-bee workers. The scent of A. morio, however, was too weak to elicit any electrophysiological responses. The overall variation in scent was significantly lower in the rewarding A. coriophora than in the deceptive A. morio, suggesting pollinator avoidance-learning selecting for high variation in the deceptive species. A. morio flowers supplemented with non-variable scent in plot experiments, however, did not show significantly reduced pollination success.
Whereas in the rewarding A. coriophora stabilizing selection imposed by floral constancy of the pollinators may reduce scent variability, in the deceptive A. morio the emitted scent seems to be too weak to be detected by pollinators and thus its high variability may result from relaxed selection on this floral trait.
PMCID: PMC2749627  PMID: 17684024
Anacamptis coriophora; Anacamptis morio; food deception; floral odour; GC-EAD; pollination; scentless flowers
13.  Evolution of sexual mimicry in the orchid subtribe orchidinae: the role of preadaptations in the attraction of male bees as pollinators 
Within the astonishing diversity of orchid pollination systems, sexual deception is one of the most stunning. An example is the genus Ophrys, where plants attract male bees as pollinators by mimicking female mating signals. Unsaturated hydrocarbons (alkenes) are often the key signal for this chemical mimicry. Here we investigate the evolution of these key compounds within Orchidinae by mapping their production in flowers of selected species onto their estimated phylogeny.
We found that alkenes, at least in trace amounts, were present in 18 of 20 investigated species together representing 10 genera. Thus, the reconstruction of ancestral state for alkene-production showed that this is a primitive character state in Ophrys, and can be interpreted as a preadaptation for the evolution of sexual deception. Four of the investigated species, namely Ophrys sphegodes, Serapias lingua, S. cordigera, and Anacamptis papilionacea, that are pollinated primarily by male bees, produced significantly larger amounts and a greater number of different alkenes than the species pollinated either primarily by female bees or other insects.
We suggest that high amounts of alkenes evolved for the attraction of primarily male bees as pollinators by sensory exploitation, and discuss possible driving forces for the evolution of pollination by male bees.
PMCID: PMC2267782  PMID: 18226206
14.  Evolution of ‘pollinator’- attracting signals in fungi 
Biology Letters  2006;2(3):401-404.
Fungi produce a plethora of secondary metabolites yet their biological significance is often little understood. Some compounds show well-known antibiotic properties, others may serve as volatile signals for the attraction of insects that act as vectors of spores or gametes. Our investigations in an outcrossing, self-incompatible fungus show that a fungus-produced volatile compound with fungitoxic activities is also responsible for the attraction of specific insects that transfer gametes. We argue that insect attraction using this compound is likely to have evolved from its primary function of defence—as has been suggested for floral scent in the angiosperms. We, thus, propose that similar yet convergent evolutionary pathways have lead to interspecific communication signals in both fungi and plants.
PMCID: PMC1686216  PMID: 17148414
Epichloë; volatiles; scent; fly pollination
15.  Evidence for pollinator sharing in Mediterranean nectar-mimic orchids: absence of premating barriers? 
Pollinator specificity has traditionally been considered the main reproductive isolation mechanism in orchids. Among Mediterranean orchids, however, many species attract and deceive pollinators by mimicking nectar-rewarding plants. To test the extent to which deceptive orchid species share pollinators, we collected and identified hemipollinaria-carrying insects, and used ribosomal sequences to identify the orchid species from which hemipollinaria were removed. We found that social and solitary bees, and also flies, carried hemipollinaria belonging to nine orchid species with different degrees of specialization. In particular, Anacamptis morio, Dactylorhiza romana and Orchis mascula used a large set of pollinator species, whereas others such as Orchis quadripunctata seemed to be pollinated by one pollinator species only. Out of the insects with hemipollinaria, 19% were found to carry hemipollinaria from more than one orchid species, indicating that sympatric food-deceptive orchids can share pollinators. This sharing was apparent even among orchid sister-species, thus revealing an effective overlap in pollinator sets among closely related species. These results suggest varying degrees of pollinator specificity in these orchids, and indicate that pollinator specificity cannot always act as the main isolation mechanism in food-deceptive temperate orchids.
PMCID: PMC1564100  PMID: 16024392
bees; hemipollinaria; nuclear rDNA internal transcribed spacer; pollination; orchids; reproductive isolation
16.  Pollinator attractiveness increases with distance from flowering orchids. 
Orchids are extraordinary among plants because many species are pollinated through sexual duplicity by producing flowers that mimic female insects to lure unsuspecting males. Previous work showed that sexual deception by the orchid Chiloglottis trapeziformis can have a negative impact on its wasp pollinator Neozeleboria cryptoides. We report that female wasps may be capable of mitigating the cost of the orchids' deception. Although male wasps quickly habituated to areas planted with unrewarding flower decoys, we found that the effectiveness of the chemical cue used by the wingless females to attract males increases with increasing distance from an orchid patch. The apparent specificity of the males' site-based avoidance strategy means that females emerging in areas occupied by flowering orchids could, potentially, leave the orchid colony by walking to increase their attractiveness.
PMCID: PMC1810010  PMID: 15252987
17.  Pollinator attraction in a sexually deceptive orchid by means of unconventional chemicals. 
Ophrys flowers mimic virgin females of their pollinators, and thereby attract males for pollination. Stimulated by scent, the males attempt to copulate with flower labella and thereby ensure pollination. Here, we show for the first time, to our knowledge, that pollinator attraction in sexually deceptive orchids may be based on a few specific chemical compounds. Ophrys speculum flowers produce many volatiles, including trace amounts of (omega-1)-hydroxy and (omega-1)-oxo acids, especially 9-hydroxydecanoic acid. These compounds, which are novel in plants, prove to be the major components of the female sex pheromone in the scoliid wasp Campsoscolia ciliata, and stimulate male copulatory behaviour in this pollinator species. The specificity of the signal depends primarily on the structure and enantiomeric composition of the oxygenated acids, which is the same in wasps and in the orchids. The overall composition of the blend differs significantly between the orchid and its pollinator and is of secondary importance. 9-Hydroxydecanoic acid is a rarely occurring compound that until now has been identified only in honeybees. Contrary to the standard hypothesis that Ophrys flowers produce only 'second-class attractivity compounds' and are neglected once the pollinator females are present, we show that flowers are more attractive to the males than are their own females.
PMCID: PMC1691269  PMID: 12641907
18.  How an orchid harms its pollinator. 
Certain orchids produce flowers that mimic the sex pheromones and appearance of female insects in order to attract males by sexual deception for the purpose of pollination. In a series of field experiments, we found that the sexually deceptive orchid, Chiloglottis trapeziformis, can have a negative impact on its wasp pollinator Neozeleboria cryptoides. Male and female wasps, however, were affected differently by the orchid's deceit because of their different roles in the mimicry system. Male wasps could not discriminate between the chemical cues of orchids and female wasps, a vital signal in long-range attraction. Males, however, learn to avoid areas containing orchids. This strategy has implications for females attempting to attract mates in areas occupied by orchids. Compared with circumstances when females were on their own, females in the presence of orchids elicited fewer male approaches and no copulation attempts. Females in a large orchid patch also elicited fewer male approaches than females in a small patch. The nature of the orchid's impact on its wasp pollinator indicates an arms race evolutionary scenario in this interaction between plant and pollinator.
PMCID: PMC1691071  PMID: 12184821

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