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On the roles of colour and scent in a specialized floral mimicry system

Vereecken, Nicolas J., Schiestl, Florian P.
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1077-1084
Colletes cunicularius, Ophrys, bioassays, color, cross pollination, flowers, gas chromatography, males, mass spectrometry, morphs, odors, pollinators, sex pheromones
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. METHODS: 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. CONCLUSION: 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.