An experimental evaluation of traits that influence the sexual behaviour of pollinators in sexually deceptive orchids Academic Article uri icon


  • Pollination by sexual deception of male insects is perhaps one of the most remarkable cases of mimicry in the plant kingdom. However, understanding the influence of floral traits on pollinator behaviour in sexually deceptive plants is challenging, due to the risk of confounding changes in floral odour when manipulating morphology. Here, we investigated the floral traits influencing the sexual response of male Zaspilothynnus nigripes (Tiphiidae) wasps, a pollinator of two distantly related sexually deceptive orchids with contrasting floral architecture, Caladenia pectinata and Drakaea livida. In D. livida, the chemical sexual attractant is emitted from the labellum, whereas in C. pectinata, it is produced from the distal sepal tips, allowing manipulative experiments. When controlling for visual cues, there was no difference in long-distance attraction, although the floral odour of D. livida induced copulation more frequently than that of C. pectinata. The role of colour in pollinator sexual attraction was equivocal, indicating that colour may not be a strong constraint on the initial evolution of sexual deception. The frequency of wasp visitors landing on C. pectinata decreased when the amount of floral odour was reduced, but attempted copulation rates were enhanced when the source of floral odour was associated with the labellum. These latter variables may represent axes of selection that operate across many sexually deceptive species. Nonetheless, the observed variation in floral traits suggests flexibility among species in how sexual deception can be achieved.

publication date

  • 2018