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      Evolution of sexual mimicry in the orchid subtribe orchidinae: the role of preadaptations in the attraction of male bees as pollinators

      , 1 , 2

      BMC Evolutionary Biology

      BioMed Central

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          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.

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          Most cited references 78

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          Ecological, behavioral, and biochemical aspects of insect hydrocarbons.

          This review covers selected literature from 1982 to the present on some of the ecological, behavioral, and biochemical aspects of hydrocarbon use by insects and other arthropods. Major ecological and behavioral topics are species- and gender-recognition, nestmate recognition, task-specific cues, dominance and fertility cues, chemical mimicry, and primer pheromones. Major biochemical topics include chain length regulation, mechanism of hydrocarbon formation, timing of hydrocarbon synthesis and transport, and biosynthesis of volatile hydrocarbon pheromones of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera. In addition, a section is devoted to future research needs in this rapidly growing area of science.
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            Mechanisms and evolution of deceptive pollination in orchids.

            The orchid family is renowned for its enormous diversity of pollination mechanisms and unusually high occurrence of non-rewarding flowers compared to other plant families. The mechanisms of deception in orchids include generalized food deception, food-deceptive floral mimicry, brood-site imitation, shelter imitation, pseudoantagonism, rendezvous attraction and sexual deception. Generalized food deception is the most common mechanism (reported in 38 genera) followed by sexual deception (18 genera). Floral deception in orchids has been intensively studied since Darwin, but the evolution of non-rewarding flowers still presents a major puzzle for evolutionary biology. The two principal hypotheses as to how deception could increase fitness in plants are (i) reallocation of resources associated with reward production to flowering and seed production, and (ii) higher levels of cross-pollination due to pollinators visiting fewer flowers on non-rewarding plants, resulting in more outcrossed progeny and more efficient pollen export. Biologists have also tried to explain why deception is overrepresented in the orchid family. These explanations include: (i) efficient removal and deposition of pollinaria from orchid flowers in a single pollinator visit, thus obviating the need for rewards to entice multiple visits from pollinators; (ii) efficient transport of orchid pollen, thus requiring less reward-induced pollinator constancy; (iii) low-density populations in many orchids, thus limiting the learning of associations of floral phenotypes and rewards by pollinators; (iv) packaging of pollen in pollinaria with limited carry-over from flower to flower, thus increasing the risks of geitonogamous self-pollination when pollinators visit many flowers on rewarding plants. All of these general and orchid-specific hypotheses are difficult to reconcile with the well-established pattern for rewardlessness to result in low pollinator visitation rates and consequently low levels of fruit production. Arguments that deception evolves because rewards are costly are particularly problematic in that small amounts of nectar are unlikely to have a significant effect on the energy budget of orchids, and because reproduction in orchids is often severely pollen-, rather than resource-limited. Several recent experimental studies have shown that deception promotes cross-pollination, but it remains unknown whether actual outcrossing rates are generally higher in deceptive orchids. Our review of the literature shows that there is currently no evidence that deceptive orchids carry higher levels of genetic load (an indirect measure of outcrossing rate) than their rewarding counterparts. Cross-pollination does, however, result in dramatic increases in seed quality in almost all orchids and has the potential to increase pollen export (by reducing pollen discounting). We suggest that floral deception is particularly beneficial, because of its promotion of outcrossing, when pollinators are abundant, but that when pollinators are consistently rare, selection may favour a nectar reward or a shift to autopollination. Given that nectar-rewardlessness is likely to have been the ancestral condition in orchids and yet is evolutionarily labile, more attention will need to be given to explanations as to why deception constitutes an 'evolutionarily stable strategy'.
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              Orchid diversity: an evolutionary consequence of deception?

              The Orchidaceae are one of the most species-rich plant families and their floral diversity and pollination biology have long intrigued evolutionary biologists. About one-third of the estimated 18,500 species are thought to be pollinated by deceit. To date, the focus has been on how such pollination evolved, how the different types of deception work, and how it is maintained, but little progress has been made in understanding its evolutionary consequences. To address this issue, we discuss here how deception affects orchid mating systems, the evolution of reproductive isolation, speciation processes and neutral genetic divergence among species. We argue that pollination by deceit is one of the keys to orchid floral and species diversity. A better understanding of its evolutionary consequences could help evolutionary biologists to unravel the reasons for the evolutionary success of orchids.

                Author and article information

                BMC Evol Biol
                BMC Evolutionary Biology
                BioMed Central
                28 January 2008
                : 8
                : 27
                [1 ]Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zürich, Zollikerstrasse 107, CH-8008 Zürich, Switzerland
                [2 ]Università degli Studi di Napoli "Federico II", Dipartimento delle Scienze Biologiche, Via Foria 223, 80139 Napoli, Italy
                Copyright © 2008 Schiestl and Cozzolino; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article

                Evolutionary Biology


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