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Keywords:

  • Floral odor;
  • Ophrys;
  • pollination;
  • reproductive isolation;
  • sexually deceptive orchids;
  • speciation

Floral isolation is an important component of pollinator-driven speciation. However, up to now, only a few studies have quantified its strength and relative contribution to total reproductive isolation. In this study, we quantified floral isolation among three closely related, sympatric orchid species of the genus Ophrys by directly tracking pollen flow. Ophrys orchids mimic their pollinators’ mating signals, and are pollinated by male insects during mating attempts. This pollination system, called sexual deception, is usually highly specific. However, whether pollinator specialization also conveys floral isolation is currently under debate. In this study, we found strong floral isolation: among 46 tracked pollen transfers in two flowering seasons, all occurred within species. Accounting for observation error rate, we estimated a floral isolation index ≥0.98 among each pair of species. Hand pollination experiments suggested that postpollination barriers were effectively absent among our study species. Genetic analysis based on AFLP markers showed a clear species clustering and very few F1 hybrids in natural populations, providing independent evidence that strong floral isolation prevents significant interspecies gene flow. Our results provide the first direct evidence that floral isolation acts as the main reproductive barrier among closely related plant species with specialized pollination.