Smells like aphids: orchid flowers mimic aphid alarm pheromones to attract hoverflies for pollination

Johannes Stökl, Jennifer Brodmann, Amots Dafni, Manfred Ayasse, Bill S. Hansson

Abstract

Most insects are dependent on chemical communication for activities such as mate finding or host location. Several plants, and especially orchids, mimic insect semiochemicals to attract insects for unrewarded pollination. Here, we present a new case of pheromone mimicry found in the terrestrial orchid Epipactis veratrifolia. Flowers are visited and pollinated by several species of aphidophagous hoverflies, the females of which also often lay eggs in the flowers. The oviposition behaviour of these hoverflies is mainly guided by aphid-derived kairomones. We show that the flowers produce α- and β-pinene, β-myrcene and β-phellandrene, and that these compounds attract and induce oviposition behaviour in female hoverflies. This floral odour profile is remarkably similar to the alarm pheromone released by several aphid species, such as Megoura viciae. We therefore suggest that E. veratrifolia mimics aphid alarm pheromones to attract hoverflies for pollination; this is the first time, to our knowledge, that such a case of mimicry has been demonstrated.

Footnotes

    • Received August 17, 2010.
    • Accepted September 20, 2010.
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