Abstract

Pollinator specificity has traditionally been considered the main reproductive isolation mechanism in orchids. Among Mediterranean orchids, however, many species attract and deceive pollinators by mimicking nectar-rewarding plants. To test the extent to which deceptive orchid species share pollinators, we collected and identified hemipollinaria-carrying insects, and used ribosomal sequences to identify the orchid species from which hemipollinaria were removed. We found that social and solitary bees, and also flies, carried hemipollinaria belonging to nine orchid species with different degrees of specialization. In particular, Anacamptis morio, Dactylorhiza romana and Orchis mascula used a large set of pollinator species, whereas others such as Orchis quadripunctata seemed to be pollinated by one pollinator species only. Out of the insects with hemipollinaria, 19% were found to carry hemipollinaria from more than one orchid species, indicating that sympatric food-deceptive orchids can share pollinators. This sharing was apparent even among orchid sister-species, thus revealing an effective overlap in pollinator sets among closely related species. These results suggest varying degrees of pollinator specificity in these orchids, and indicate that pollinator specificity cannot always act as the main isolation mechanism in food-deceptive temperate orchids.

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