• Araceae;
  • diversification;
  • flower constancy;
  • flowering time;
  • odour;
  • pollinator competition

Flowers of the genus Arum are known to attract dung-breeding flies and beetles through olfactory deceit. In addition to this strategy, the genus has evolved several other pollination mechanisms. The present study aimed to characterize the pollination strategies of the Cretan Arum species by investigating the flowering phenology, thermogeny, inflorescence odours, and the pollinating fauna. The results obtained show that Arum cyrenaicum and Arum concinnatum emit a strong dung smell and exhibit the distinctive features associated with this pollination syndrome. Both species are highly thermogenic, have a similar odour profile and attract small-bodied Diptera. Although sharing the same habitat, these two plant species are never found growing sympatrically as a result of the early blooming period of A. cyrenaicum. By contrast, Arum creticum and Arum idaeum have evolved a more traditional and mutually beneficial pollination mechanism. The stinking smell has been replaced by a more flower-like odour that attracts bees (Lasioglossum sp.) and, occasionally, bugs (Dionconotus cruentatus). Although attracting the same pollinator, the main compound present in the odour of A. creticum is different from that of A. idaeum. Principal component analysis (PCA), based on physiologically active components of the flower odours determined by testing on the antenna of the Lasioglossum bee, revealed two different clusters, indicating that pollinators can potentially discriminate between the odours of the two species. A further PCA on the main floral odour volatiles as identified by gas chroatography-mass spectroscopy from all the Arum species under investigation displayed odour-based similarities and differences among the species. The PCA-gas chomotography-electroantennographic detection active peaks analysis showed that the two species, A. creticum and A. idaeum, form two groups and are clearly separated from A. cyrenaicum and A. concinnatum, which, conversely, cluster together. The evolutionary forces and selective pressures leading to diversification of pollination mechanisms in the Cretan Arum spp. are discussed. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 101, 991–1001.