• Ficus carica;
  • chemostimulation;
  • host orientation;
  • bioassays;
  • Blastophaga psenes;
  • fig wasps;
  • pollination


In the mutualism between figs (Ficus spp., Moraceae) and their species-specific fig wasp pollinators (Hymenoptera: Agaonidae), location of a receptive host tree by the adult insect is a critical step. The adult female wasp lives only a few days, and must usually fly to a different tree than her natal tree to locate receptive figs. Trees in receptive phase often occur at very low densities. Reproductive success of both fig and wasp depends on transmission of a very strong signal by the plant. Some evidence exists for the role of olfaction in location of receptive hosts by fig wasps, but very little work has been done on the chemical ecology of host location and host specificity. Here the first experimental evidence is presented for long-distance olfactory attraction of wasps by volatile substances produced by receptive figs, and for short-distance or contact chemostimulation by host volatiles that elicit entry of the wasp into the fig. In studies using Ficus carica L., pentane extracts of receptive-phase figs attract the pollinator Blastophaga psenes L. from distances of at least 5 m in the field. Short-distance chemostimulation was demonstrated in laboratory bioassays. Pentane extracts of receptive figs, when painted onto the ostiole of non-receptive figs, elicit entry of pollinator wasps. Figs emit volatile compounds attractive to pollinating wasps only during the period of receptivity; pentane extracts of non-receptive figs are not attractive. A simple reliable procedure is described to compare the attractivity of different types of extracts (total, internal, and external extracts) and of different fractions, in the first step towards identifying attractant substances.