, Volume 140, Issue 2, pp 321–327 | Cite as

Characterizing the interaction between the bogus yucca moth and yuccas: do bogus yucca moths impact yucca reproductive success?

  • David M. Althoff
  • Kari A. Segraves
  • Jed P. Sparks
Plant Animal Interactions


Yucca moths are most well known for their obligate pollination mutualism with yuccas, where pollinator moths provide yuccas with pollen and, in exchange, the moth larvae feed on a subset of the developing yucca seeds. The pollinators, however, comprise only two of the three genera of yucca moths. Members of the third genus, Prodoxus, are the “bogus yucca moths” and are sister to the pollinator moths. Adult Prodoxus lack the specialized mouthparts used for pollination and the larvae feed on plant tissues other than seeds. Prodoxus larvae feed within the same plants as pollinator larvae and have the potential to influence yucca reproductive success directly by drawing resources away from flowers and fruit, or indirectly by modifying the costs of the mutualism with pollinators. We examined the interaction between the scape-feeding bogus yucca moth, Prodoxus decipiens, and one of its yucca hosts, Yucca filamentosa, by comparing female reproductive success of plants with and without moth larvae. We determined reproductive success by measuring a set of common reproductive traits such as flowering characteristics, seed set, and seed germination. In addition, we also quantified the percent total nitrogen in the seeds to determine whether the presence of larvae could potentially reduce seed quality. Flowering characteristics, seed set, and seed germination were not significantly different between plants with and without bogus yucca moth larvae. In contrast, the percent total nitrogen content of seeds was significantly lower in plants with P. decipiens larvae, and nitrogen content was negatively correlated with the number of larvae feeding within the inflorescence scape. Surveys of percent total nitrogen at three time periods during the flowering and fruiting of Y. filamentosa also showed that larval feeding decreased the amount of nitrogen in fruit tissue. Taken together, the results suggest that although P. decipiens influences nitrogen distribution in Y. filamentosa, this physiological effect does not appear to impact the female components of reproductive success.


Mutualism Community context Herbivory Plant physiology Species interactions 



We thank Judie Bronstein, Olle Pellmyr and an anonymous reviewer for constructive criticisms and improvements to the manuscript. B. Crabb and N. Lang provided assistance with the unending hand pollinations and dissections. A. Eller and K. Sparks prepared and analyzed samples for nitrogen content. We thank the biologists and staff at the Archbold Biological Station, especially Mark Deyrup, for much support and access to laboratory space. This research was partially supported by NSF DEB 00-75944 to O. Pellmyr, and DEB 03-21293 to O. Pellmyr and D. Althoff.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Althoff
    • 1
  • Kari A. Segraves
    • 1
  • Jed P. Sparks
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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