Consequences of protecting flowers in a fig: a one-way trip for pollinators?

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Abstract

Abstract. Fig trees (Ficus) have closed inflorescences. Closure is an efficient protection of flowers against non-specialist predators and harsh external environmental conditions. Each Ficus species is pollinated by a single insect species, an agaonid wasp, capable of forcing its way through a bract-covered pore, the ostiole, to gain access to the flowers. Figs also provide oviposition sites for the wasps. The fig/pollinator interaction is a classic example of mutualism. It has been widely assumed that, once pollinators have entered a fig, oviposited and pollinated, they die trapped within the fig. In this paper, we present observations under natural conditions and results of field experiments on three very different fig species (Ficus aurea Nutt., F. carica L. and F. microcarpa L.) showing that some pollinators do exit or try to exit from the fig after pollination and oviposition. Moreover, experimental results demonstrate that in at least one species (F. carica), the pollinator is able to oviposit successively in two different figs.

The frequency of re-emergences from figs after pollination varies among species and this may be related to variations in pollination dynamics depending on environmental constraints such as the abundance of trees and tree phenology. Several factors that may favour pollinators that leave figs after pollination and oviposition are discussed. They include competition between pollinators for oviposition sites, and minimising of the risk of vertical transmission of parasites and pathogens.

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