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Keywords:

  • Fig;
  • pollination;
  • mutualism;
  • specialization;
  • co-evolution

Abstract. Plants pollinated by specialists are often thought to receive exceptionally high-quality pollinator service, but in relatively low and unpredictable quantities. We examine and reject this hypothesis for an obligate mutualism between a subtropical New World fig (Ficus aurea) and its species-specific pollinator (Pegoscapus jimenezi). Fig wasps lay eggs within the flowers they pollinate; their offspring destroy a large proportion of fig's seeds. In a 6-year study of this interaction in Florida, U.S.A., we found that pollination intensity was in fact relatively high. Also contrary to expectations, reproductive success of both mutualists (as well as other wasps cohabiting the figs) was extremely variable and generally low, at three different scales of sampling: among figs from a single crop of one tree (thirty-four figs), among crops produced at different times by that tree (126 figs), and across trees over a 1-year period (379 figs). Although variable, fig contents were not completely unpredictable. For example, seed and wasp numbers increased with the number of flowers in a fig, and female and male flower numbers increased together. Little is yet known about the causes either of these relationships or of the massive fig-to-fig variation itself, although there is some evidence that they exist in other fig species as well. Further investigations of these patterns should shed new light on the ecology and evolution of this mutualism.