Waiting for wasps: consequences for the pollination dynamics of Ficus pertusa L.


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Abstract. Pollination of fig trees depends on mutualist wasps that reproduce within their flowers. Until recently, it was assumed that there was a short window of time during which a fig crop could be pollinated. Hence, pollination of figs was thought to depend on extreme efficiency of the wasps in locating receptive trees. In that context, extensive data on the Costa Rican fig tree Ficus pertusa L. have been very difficult to understand. In F. pertusa, figs of different crops attract wasps at different stages of their development. The crops that attract wasps the earliest in their development are the most heavily visited ones, but mature the fewest pollinator offspring and seeds on a per-fig basis. Using simulation models of pollinator population dynamics and field data, we show that (i) attractiveness of a crop is prolonged, (ii) wasps prefer large figs when given a choice, and (iii) the observed pattern of preferential early visitation of crops can be explained by temporal variations in pollinator abundance. This emphasizes the importance of population-level mechanisms to explain the fig/fig wasp mutualism.