Alpine Botany

, Volume 122, Issue 1, pp 1–9 | Cite as

Specific ant-pollination in an alpine orchid and the role of floral scent in attracting pollinating ants

  • Florian P. SchiestlEmail author
  • Florian Glaser
Original Paper


Several studies have recently shown that floral scent can deter ants from flowers. However, when ants serve as reliable pollen vectors, for example in harsh, windy habitats, were flying insects are less active, plants should have evolved floral signals to attract them to the flowers. We tested this hypothesis in the alpine orchid, Chamorchis alpina. C. alpina was found to be predominantly ant pollinated, with some occasional pollination by ichneumonid wasps. In all three investigated populations, only two species of ants, Formica lemani and Leptothorax acervorum visited the flowers and removed pollinaria. These two pollinator ants were found to be among the most common ant species in all habitats, but other, non-pollinating ants were also frequently found, suggesting a factor that mediates specific pollination. Floral morphology was found to be compatible with at least one of the common non-pollinator ants. Floral scent consistently comprised five terpenoid compounds, β-phellandrene, 1,8-cineole, linalool, α-terpineol, and β-caryophyllene. A synthetic blend of these five compounds emitting from rubber septa, was found to be attractive to one pollinator ant-species, F. lemani, in the field. The floral scent of C. alpina, through attracting only specific ants, may thus play a role in filtering floral visitors.


Floral VOC Floral evolution Floral filter Orchidaceae Formicidae 



We thank Reto Nyffeler and Merran Matthews for their initial help with finding populations of Chamorchis alpina. This study was financially supported by the Claratz Schenkung and the “Alpenblumenfonds” of the Swiss Botanical Society.


  1. Baumann B, Baumann H (2010) Pollination of Chamorchis alpina (L.) Rich. in the alps by worker ants of Formica lemani Bondroit: first record of ant pollination in Europe. J Eur Orch 42:3–20Google Scholar
  2. Beattie AJ (2007) The evolution of ant pollination systems. Bot Jahrb Syst 127:43–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beattie AJ, Turnbull C, Knox RB, Williams EG (1984) Ant inhibition of pollen function—a possible reason why ant pollination is rare. Am J Bot 71:421–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cosacov A, Nattero J, Cocucci AA (2008) Variation of pollinator assemblages and pollen limitation in a locally specialized system: the oil-producing Nierembergia linariifolia (Solanaceae). Ann Bot 102:723–734PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dietrich CO, Ölzant S (1998) Formicidae (Hymenoptera) der Illmündung (Österreich: Vorarlberg) mit einem Beitrag zur Barberfallenmethodik bei Ameisen. Myrmecologische Nachrichten 2:7–13Google Scholar
  6. Faegri K, van der Pijl L (1979) The principles of pollination ecology. Pergamon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Fenster CB, Armbruster WS, Wilson P, Dudash MR, Thomson JD (2004) Pollination syndromes and floral specialization. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:375–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gomez JM, Zamora R (1999) Generalization vs. specialization in the pollination system of Hormathophylla spinosa (Cruciferae). Ecology 80:796–805Google Scholar
  9. Grant V, Grant KA (1965) Flower pollination in the Phlox family. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Herrera CM, Castellanos MC, Medrano M (2006) Geographical context of floral evolution: towards an improved research programme in floral diversification. In: Harder LD, Barrett SCH (eds) Ecology and evolution of flowers. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 278–294Google Scholar
  11. Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Johnson SD, Hargreaves AL, Brown M (2006) Dark, bitter-tasting nectar functions as a filter of flower visitors in a gbird-pollinated plant. Ecology 87:2709–2716PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Johnson SD, Steiner KE (2000) Generalization versus specialization in plant pollination systems. Tree 15:140–143PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Junker RR, Bluthgen N (2008) Floral scents repel potentially nectar-thieving ants. Evol Ecol Res 10:295–308Google Scholar
  15. Junker RJ, Blüthgen N (2010) Floral scents repel facultative flower visitors, but attract obligate ones. Ann Bot 105:777–782PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kay KM, Sargent RD (2009) The role of animal pollination in plant speciation: integrating ecology, geography, and genetics. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 40:637–656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kutter H (1977) Hymenoptera Formicidae. Fauna Insecta Helvetica 6, Zürich, 293 ppGoogle Scholar
  18. Melendez-Ackerman E, Campbell DR, Waser NM (1997) Hummingbird behavior and mechanisms of selection on flower color in Ipomopsis. Ecology 78:2532–2541Google Scholar
  19. Müller H (1881) Alpenblumen, ihre Befruchtung durch Insekten und ihre Anpassungen an dieselben. Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig Google Scholar
  20. Nilsson A (1981) The pollination ecology of Listera ovata (Orchidaceae). Nordic J Bot 1:461–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nilsson LA (1988) The evolution of flowers with deep corolla tubes. Nature 334:147–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peakall R (1989) The unique pollination of Leporella fimbriata (Orchidaceae)—pollination by pseudocopulating male ants (Myrmecia urens, Formicidae). Plant Syst Evol 167:137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Peakall R, Angus CJ, Beattie AJ (1990) The significance of ant and plant traits for ant pollination in Leporella fimbriata. Oecologia 84:457–460Google Scholar
  24. Peakall R, Beattie AJ (1989) Pollination of the orchid Microtis parviflora R BR by flightless worker ants. Funct Ecol 3:515–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peakall R, Beattie AJ (1991) The genetic consequences of worker ant pollination in a self-compatible clonal orchid. Evolution 45:1837–1848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Peakall R, Handel SN, Beattie AJ (1991) The evidence for, and importance of, ant pollination. Ant Plant Interact 45:421–429Google Scholar
  27. Perez-Barrales R, Arroyo J, Armbruster WS (2007) Differences in pollinator faunas may generate geographic differences in floral morphology and integration in Narcissus papyraceus (Alarcissiopapyraceris). Oikos 116:1904–1918CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pichersky E, Noel JP, Dudareva N (2006) Biosynthesis of plant volatiles: nature’s diversity and ingenuity Wake up and smell the roses: the ecology and evolution of floral scent. Science 311:808–811PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Raguso RA (2008) Wake up and smell the roses: the ecology and evolution of floral scent. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 39:549–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rostas M, Tautz J (2010) Ants as pollinators of plants and the role of floral scents. In: Dubinsky Z, Seckbach J (eds) All flesh is grass. Springer, Berlin, pp 151–161 Google Scholar
  31. Schemske DW, Bradshaw HD (1999) Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96:11910–11915PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schiestl FP (2005) On the success of a swindle: pollination by deception in orchids. Naturwissenschaften 92:255–264PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schiestl FP (2010) The evolution of floral scent and insect chemical communication. Ecol Lett 13:643–656PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schiestl FP, Schlüter PM (2009) Floral isolation, specialized pollination, and pollinator behavior in orchids. Annu Rev Entomol 54:425–446PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schiestl FP et al (2006) Evolution of ‘pollinator’—attracting signals in fungi. Biol Lett 2:401–404PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Seifert B (2007) Die Ameisen Mittel- und Nordeuropas. Lutra-Verlag, 368 ppGoogle Scholar
  37. Stebbins LG (1970) Adaptive radiation of reproductive characteristics in angiosperms, I: pollination mechanisms. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 1:307–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Svensson GP, Okamoto T, Kawakita A, Goto R, Kato M (2010) Chemical ecology of obligate pollination mutualisms: testing the ‘private channel’ hypothesis in the Breynia-Epicephala association. New Phytol 186:995–1004PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Waser NM, Campbell DR (2004) Ecological speciation in flowering plants. In: Dieckmann U, Doebeli M, Metz MJ, Tautz D (eds) Adaptive speciation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 264–277Google Scholar
  40. Whittall JB, Hodges SA (2007) Pollinator shifts drive increasingly long nectar spurs in columbine flowers. Nature 447:706–712PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Willmer P et al (2009) Floral volatiles controlling ant behaviour. Funct Ecol 23:888–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wright GA, Schiestl FP (2009) The evolution of floral scent: the influence of olfactory learning by insect pollinators on the honest signalling of floral rewards. Funct Ecol 23:841–851CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Swiss Botanical Society 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Systematic Botany, University of ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Technisches Büro für BiologieAbsamAustria

Personalised recommendations