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Keywords:

  • Ficus;
  • wasp;
  • mutualism;
  • coevolution;
  • pollination

Abstract

In the dioecious fig/pollinator mutualism, the female wasps that pollinate figs on female trees die without reproducing, whereas wasps that pollinate figs on male trees produce offspring. Selection should strongly favour wasps that avoid female figs and enter only male figs. Consequently, fig trees would not be pollinated and fig seed production would ultimately cease, leading to extinction of both wasp and fig. We experimentally presented pollinators in the wild (southern India) with a choice between male and female figs of a dioecious fig species, Ficus hispida L. Our results show that wasps do not systematically discriminate between sexes of F. hispida. We propose four hypotheses to explain why wasp choice has not evolved, and how a mutualism is thus maintained in which all wasps that pollinate female figs have zero fitness.