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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Sexual attraction with pollination during feeding behaviour: implications for transitions between specialized strategies

Phillips, Ryan D.; Bohman, Bjorn; Peakall, Rod; Reiter, Noushka


Background and Aims Understanding the origin of pollination by sexual deception has proven challenging, as sexually deceptive flowers are often highly modified, making it hard to resolve how any intermediate forms between sexual deception and an ancestral strategy might have functioned. Here, we report the discovery in Caladenia (Orchidaceae) of sexual attraction with pollination during feeding behaviour, which may offer important clues for understanding shifts in pollination strategy.Methods For Caladenia robinsonii, we observed the behaviour of its male wasp pollinator, Phymatothynnus aff. nitidus (Thynnidae), determined the site of release of the sexual attractant, and experimentally evaluated if the position of the attractant influences rates of attempted copulation and feeding behaviour. We applied GC-MS to test for surface sugar on the labellum. To establish if this pollination strategy is widespread in Caladenia, we conducted similar observations and experiments for four other Caladenia species.Key Results In C. robinsonii, long-range sexual attraction of the pollinator is via semiochemicals emitted from the glandular sepal tips. Of the wasps landing on the flower, 57 % attempted copulation with the sepal tips, while 27 % attempted to feed from the base of the labellum, the behaviour associated with pollen transfer. A similar proportion of wasps exhibited feeding behaviour when the site of odour release was manipulated. A comparable pollination strategy occurs in another phylogenetically distinct clade of Caladenia.Conclusions We document a previously overlooked type of sexual deception for orchids involving long-distance sexual attraction, but with pollination occurring during feeding behaviour at the labellum. We show this type of sexual deception operates in other Caladenia species and predict that it is widespread across the genus. Our findings may offer clues about how an intermediate transitional strategy from a food-rewarding or food-deceptive ancestor operated during the evolution of sexual deception.


Sexual deception; nectar; pollination; evolution; Orchidaceae

Published in

Annals of Botany
2024, Volume: 133, number: 2, pages: 273–286 Publisher: OXFORD UNIV PRESS

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