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Keywords:

  • bishop's cap;
  • dioecy;
  • gynodioecy;
  • Heuchera group;
  • Nematocera;
  • specialized pollination

The first example of pollination by fungus gnats in the eudicots is reported. The genus Mitella (Saxifragales) is characteristically produces minute, inconspicuous, mostly dull-coloured flowers with linear, sometimes pinnately branched, petals. To understand the function of these characteristic flowers, we studied the pollination biology of four Mitella species with different floral traits and different sexual expression: dioecious M. acerina, gynodioecious M. furusei var. subramosa, and hermaphroditic M. stylosa var. makinoi and M. integripetala. Flower-bagging experiments showed that wind pollination did not occur in the dioecious and gynodioecious species. Two years of observations of flower visitors at six study sites in Japan revealed that the principal pollinators of all four Mitella were specific species of fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae), which landed on the flowers with their long spiny legs settling on the petals. Characteristically, numerous pollen grains were attached to the fungus gnats in specific locations on the body. Although, on average, 1.3–2.6 fungus gnats visited each inflorescence per day, the fruit set of both bisexual and female flowers exceeded 63%. These results suggest that fungus gnats are highly efficient pollinators of Mitella spp., and that Mitella flowers are morphologically adapted to pollination by fungus gnats. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 144, 449–460.