The orchid Leporella fimbriata is pollinated by pseudocopulation with winged males of the ant Myrmecia urens. This recently studied interaction provides a unique opportunity to examine the two current hypotheses concerning the apparent rarity of ant pollination systems worldwide. The first hypothesis requires a series of specialized growth forms and floral characteristics regarded as adaptations to ant pollination. L. fimbriata does not possess them. The second considers the pollenicidal effects
of secretions from the metapleural gland of ants. These glands are absent in M. urens males and it may be that the occurrence of ant pollination requires the absence of metapleural glands in the vector.
The orchid Prasophyllum fimbria is pollinated by nectar-feeding native bees and wasps. The pollinia are spatially separated from the viscidium by a stipe so that pollinia can be labelled with coloured histochemical stains without interfering with pollinarium removal. Pollen flow was monitored by following the movement of the coloured pollen in several populations of P. fimbria in Western Australia. Statistical analysis confirmed that pollen labelling did not interfere with pollinarium removal or
subsequent pollination of the labelled flower. Fifty eight labelled pollinaria were removed by vectors from 16 test spikes, with a total of 125 flowers on 47 spikes receiving labelled pollen. An average of 2 flowers received pollen for every pollinium removed but up to 6 flowers received pollen from a single pollinium. No significant differences between mean vector flights and pollen flow distances were detected. On average, geitonogamous transfers only accounted for 22% of all pollinations. This is a simple and inexpensive technique for the direct labelling of pollen with minimal disruption to the pollination system and may have applications in other plant families.
Ant metapleural glands secrete surface antibiotics that affect pollen as well as bacteria and fungi. This may be one reason why ant pollination is rare. It is predicted that pollination by ants is possible only in the presence of certain ant and/or plant traits. Two traits are investigated; first, absence of the metapleural glands, and second, the presence of stigmatic secretions that insulate pollen from the ant integument. The pollinator of the orchid Leporella fimbriata is the ant Myrmecia ur
ens. Only one caste is involved, the winged males, and they differ significantly from the queen and worker castes in that they do not possess metapleural glands. This paper reports experiments which test for differential effects on pollen between the males and other castes and evaluates the importance of stigmatic secretions. The results show that the absence of metapleural glands makes no difference as all three castes have strong disruptive effect on pollen artificially applied to the integument. However, during pollination the orchid secures the pollen mass to the ant surface by stigmatic secretions and normal pollen function, fruit production and seed set occur. It appears that both ant and plant traits are pre-adaptive having evolved for functions other than ant pollination.
Background. The remarkable diversity of mating patterns and sexual systems in flowering plants has fascinated evolutionary biologists for more than a century. Enduring questions about this topic include why sexual polymorphisms have evolved independently in over 100 plant families, and why proportions of self- and cross-fertilization often vary dramatically within and among populations. Important new insights concerning the evolutionary dynamics of plant mating systems have built upon a strong f
oundation of theoretical models and innovative field and laboratory experiments. However, as the pace of advancement in this field has accelerated, it has become increasingly difficult for researchers to follow developments outside their primary area of research expertise.
Scope. In this Viewpoint paper we highlight three important themes that span and integrate different subdisciplines: the changes in morphology, phenology, and physiology that accompany the transition to selfing; the evolutionary consequences of pollen pool diversity in flowering plants; and the evolutionary dynamics of sexual polymorphisms. We also highlight recent developments in molecular techniques that will facilitate more efficient and cost-effective study of mating patterns in large natural populations, research on the dynamics of pollen transport, and investigations on the genetic basis of sexual polymorphisms. This Viewpoint also serves as the introduction to a Special Issue on the Evolution of Plant Mating Systems. The 15 papers in this special issue provide inspiring examples of recent discoveries, and glimpses of exciting developments yet to come.
Background and AimsPlants use a diverse range of visual and olfactory cues to advertize to pollinators. Australian Chiloglottis orchids employ one to three related chemical variants, all 2,5-dialkylcyclohexane-1,3-diones or ‘chiloglottones’ to sexually attract their specific male pollinators. Here an investigation was made of the physiological aspects of chiloglottone synthesis and storage that have not previously been examined.MethodsThe location of chiloglottone production was determined and d
evelopmental and diurnal changes by GC-MS analysis of floral tissue extracts was monitored in two distantly related Chiloglottis species. Light treatment experiments were also performed using depleted flowers to evaluate if sunlight is required for chiloglottone production; which specific wavelengths of light are required was also determined.Key ResultsChiloglottone production only occurs in specific floral tissues (the labellum calli and sepals) of open flowers. Upon flower opening chiloglottone production is rapid and levels remain more or less stable both day and night, and over the 2- to 3-week lifetime of the flower. Furthermore, it was determined that chiloglottone production requires continuous sunlight, and determined the optimal wavelengths of sunlight in the UV-B range (with peak of 300 nm).ConclusionsUV-B light is required for the synthesis of chiloglottones – the semiochemicals used by Chiloglottis orchids to sexually lure their male pollinators. This discovery appears to be the first case to our knowledge where plant floral odour production depends on UV-B radiation at normal levels of sunlight. In the future, identification of the genes and enzymes involved, will allow us to understand better the role of UV-B light in the biosynthesis of chiloglottones.
Background and Aims. Pterostylisis an Australasian terrestrial orchid genus of more than 400 species, most of which use a motile, touch-sensitive labellum to trap dipteran pollinators. Despite studies dating back to 1872, the mechanism of pollinator attraction has remained elusive. This study tested whether the fungus gnat-pollinated Pterostylis sanguinea secures pollination by sexual deception. Methods. The literature was used to establish criteria for confirming sexual deception as a pollinati
on strategy. Observations and video recordings allowed quantification of each step of the pollination process. Each floral visitor was sexed and DNA barcoding was used to evaluate the degree of pollinator specificity. Following observations that attraction to the flowers is by chemical cues, experimental dissection of flowers was used to determine the source of the sexual attractant and the effect of labellum orientation on sexual attraction. Fruit set was quantified for 19 populations to test for a relationship with plant density and population size. Key Results. A single species of male gnat (Mycetophilidae) visited and pollinated the rewardless flowers. The gnats often showed probing copulatory behaviour on the labellum, leading to its triggering and the temporary entrapment of the gnat in the flower. Pollen deposition and removal occurred as the gnat escaped from the flower via the reproductive structures. The labellum was the sole source of the chemical attractant. Gnats always alighted on the labellum facing upwards, but when it was rotated 180 ° they attempted copulation less frequently. Pollination rate showed no relationship with orchid population size or plant density. Conclusions. This study confirms for the first time that highly specific pollination by fungus gnats is achieved by sexual deception in Pterostylis. It is predicted that sexual deception will be widespread in the genus, although the diversity of floral forms suggests that other mechanisms may also operate.
Background and AimsThe events leading to speciation are best investigated in systems where speciation is ongoing or incomplete, such as incipient species. By examining reproductive barriers among incipient sister taxa and their congeners we can gain valuable insights into the relative timing and importance of the various barriers involved in the speciation process. The aim of this study was to identify the reproductive barriers among sexually deceptive orchid taxa in the genus Chiloglottis.Metho
dsThe study targeted four closely related taxa with varying degrees of geographic overlap. Chemical, morphological and genetic evidence was combined to explore the basis of reproductive isolation. Of primary interest was the degree of genetic differentiation among taxa at both nuclear and chloroplast DNA markers. To objectively test whether or not species boundaries are defined by the chemistry that controls pollinator specificity, genetic analysis was restricted to samples of known odour chemistry.Key ResultsFloral odour chemical analysis was performed for 600+ flowers. The three sympatric taxa were defined by their specific chiloglottones, the semiochemicals responsible for pollinator attraction, and were found to be fully cross-compatible. Multivariate morphometric analysis could not reliably distinguish among the four taxa. Although varying from very low to moderate, significant levels of genetic differentiation were detected among all pairwise combinations of taxa at both nuclear and chloroplast loci. However, the levels of genetic differentiation were lower than expected for mature species. Critically, a lack of chloroplast DNA haplotype sharing among the morphologically indistinguishable and most closely related taxon pair confirmed that chemistry alone can define taxon boundaries.ConclusionsThe results confirmed that pollinator isolation, mediated by specific pollinator attraction, underpins strong reproductive isolation in these taxa. A combination of large effective population sizes, initial neutral mutations in the genes controlling floral scent, and a pool of available pollinators likely drives diversity in this system.
Background and Aims Australian sexually deceptive Chiloglottis orchids attract their specific male wasp pollinators by means of 2,5-dialkylcyclohexane-1,3-diones or ‘chiloglottones’, representing a newly discovered class of volatiles with unique structures. This study investigated the hypothesis that UV-B light at low intensities is directly required for chiloglottone biosynthesis in Chiloglottis trapeziformis.Methods Chiloglottone production occurs only in specific tissue (the callus) of the la
bellum. Cut buds and flowers, and whole plants with buds and flowers, sourced from the field, were kept in a growth chamber and interactions between growth stage of the flowers and duration and intensity of UV-B exposure on chiloglottone production were studied. The effects of the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide were also examined.Key Results Chiloglottone was not present in buds, but was detected in buds that were manually opened and then exposed to sunlight, or artificial UV-B light for ≥5 min. Spectrophotometry revealed that the sepals and petals blocked UV-B light from reaching the labellum inside the bud. Rates of chiloglottone production increased with developmental stage, increasing exposure time and increasing UV-B irradiance intensity. Cycloheximide did not inhibit the initial production of chiloglottone within 5 min of UV-B exposure. However, inhibition of chiloglottone production by cycloheximide occurred over 2 h of UV-B exposure, indicating a requirement for de novo protein synthesis to sustain chiloglottone production under UV-B.Conclusions The sepals and petals of Chiloglottis orchids strongly block UV-B wavelengths of light, preventing chiloglottone production inside the bud. While initiation of chiloglottone biosynthesis requires only UV-B light, sustained chiloglottone biosynthesis requires both UV-B and de novo protein biosynthesis. The internal amounts of chiloglottone in a flower reflect the interplay between developmental stage, duration and intensity of UV-B exposure, de novo protein synthesis, and feedback loops linked to the starting amount of chiloglottone. It is concluded that UV-B light contributes directly to chiloglottone biosynthesis. These findings suggest an entirely new and unexpected biochemical reaction that might also occur in taxa other than these orchids.