How an orchid harms its pollinator

Bob B. M. Wong, Florian P. Schiestl

Abstract

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.