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Keywords:

  • floral odor;
  • floral evolution;
  • flower size;
  • mate choice behaviour;
  • pollination by sexual deception;
  • sex pheromone;
  • sexual selection;
  • Thynnine wasp

Abstract

Sexually deceptive orchids mimic sex pheromones and appearance of female insects to attract males, which pollinate the flowers in an attempted mating. This study examines the effects of pollinator mate choice on orchid floral evolution using the Thynnine wasp Neozeleboria cryptoides (Smith) (Hymenoptera: Tiphiidae), which pollinates the sexually deceptive orchid Chiloglottis trapeziformis Fitzg. (i) When male wasps were given the choice between two female dummies of different sizes and identical amount of synthetic pheromone, they preferentially attempted to copulate with medium-sized dummies over small dummies. (ii) When given the choice between two dummies of identical size but different amounts of pheromone, males preferred the larger amount of pheromone. Larger amounts of pheromone generally attracted more males than smaller amounts. (iii) Orchid flower labella, which mimic a female body, were significantly longer and broader than female wasp bodies, and the flowers also produced on average 10 times more ‘pheromone’ than females. The evolution and maintenance of these exaggerated mating signals is likely to be mediated by the male pollinator behaviour demonstrated here. (iv) When five dummies were offered simultaneously in a 10 cm circular array, males rarely attempted copulation on more than one dummy during a single visit. This behaviour may foster the evolution or maintenance of clonality in C. trapeziformis, as it will minimize pollen exchange within clones.