Fly pollination in Cypripedium: a case study of sympatric C. sichuanense and C. micranthum




Most Cypripedium spp. are known to be pollinated by bees. However, myiophilous traits are found in some species, especially in sections Trigonopedia and Sinopedilum. Here we chose C. micranthum and C. sichuanense, two sympatric species endemic to Sichuan, China, to test whether these orchids are fly pollinated. Artificial pollination showed that both flowers are self-compatible but need pollen vectors for successful reproduction. Field observation showed that C. micranthum was pollinated by fruit flies and C. sichuanense by dung flies, both novel pollinators of Cypripedium orchids. These sympatric Cypripedium spp. are also cross-compatible, but hybrids were not found in nature. The pollination syndromes of C. sichuanense and C. micranthum fit into the complex sapromyiophily pattern. It appears that pollinator specificity is responsible for their reproductive isolation. The discovery of fly pollination in C. sichuanense and C. micranthum, which belong to the related sections Trigonopedia and Sinopedilum, suggests a shift from bee to fly pollination in the genus Cypripedium. Unlike most Cypripedium spp., the anthers of C. micranthum release discrete pollinia with narrow stalks instead of the usual amorphous pollen smears. This ‘proto-pollinarium’ is described, probably for the first time. These pollinia are most likely an adaptation for pollination by microdiptera, so the fly can carry the contents of both chambers in the same anther. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 170, 50–58.