The importance of scent and nectar filters in a specialized wasp-pollination system

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1.Plants with open flowers and exposed nectar should attract a wide diversity of flower visitors, yet, for reasons that are not yet well understood, some plants with these 'generalist' floral traits have highly specialized pollination systems. 2.We investigated this problem in the African milkweed Pachycarpus grandiflorus which has open flowers that produce copious amounts of exposed and concentrated nectar, yet is visited almost exclusively by spider-hunting wasps in the genus Hemipepsis. 3.These wasps were the only visitors found to consistently carry pollinaria and a cage experiment showed that they are capable of successfully pollinating this plant. Furthermore, experimental hand-pollinations showed that P. grandiflorus is genetically self-incompatible and thus reliant on pollinators for seed set. 4.We investigated the roles of chemical (nectar and floral scent) and spectral properties in the selective attraction of wasps and the filtering out of other potential flower visitors. Nectar palatability experiments showed that the nectar is unpalatable to honeybees but palatable to the wasps. Choice experiments conducted in the field and using a Y-maze in the laboratory showed that wasps are attracted primarily by scent rather than visual cues. Analysis of scent using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry showed that these inflorescences produce 36 different compounds, mostly monoterpenes and aliphatics. Analysis of spectral reflectance showed that flowers have similar colouring to the background vegetation. 5.We conclude that P. grandiflorus is specialized for pollination by Hemipepsis wasps, and in the absence of morphological filters, achieves specialization through unpalatable nectar, cryptic colouring and scent as a selective pollinator attractant. 6.This study demonstrates that plants whose flowers are not morphologically adapted to exclude particular floral visitors can achieve specialization through non-morphological filters.




Shuttleworth, A., & Johnson, S. D. (2009). The importance of scent and nectar filters in a specialized wasp-pollination system. Functional Ecology, 23(5), 931–940.

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