, Volume 162, Issue 2, pp 413–425 | Cite as

Host-mediated volatile polymorphism in a parasitic plant influences its attractiveness to pollinators

  • Alejandra J. Troncoso
  • Nancy J. Cabezas
  • Eric H. Faúndez
  • Alejandro Urzúa
  • Hermann M. Niemeyer
Plant-Animal interactions - Original Paper


Host-plants can mediate the interactions between herbivores and their mutualists and also between parasitic plants and their mutualists. The present study reveals how a hemiparasitic plant parasitizing three host species gives rise to three distinct hemiparasite-host neighborhoods which differ in terms of volatile composition and pollinator attractiveness. The study was performed in a population of the mistletoe Tristerix verticillatus infecting three different species of hosts occurring in sympatry within a small area, thus exposing all individuals studied to similar abiotic conditions and pollinator diversity; we assessed the effect of hosts on the hemiparasites’ visual and olfactory cues for pollinator attraction. During the study period, the hemiparasite individuals were flowering but the hosts were past their flowering stage. We collected volatile organic compounds from the hemiparasite and its hosts, measured floral display characteristics and monitored bird and insect visitors to inflorescences of T. verticillatus. We showed that: (1) floral patches did not differ in terms of floral display potentially involved in the attraction of pollinators, (2) hosts and hemiparasites on each host were discriminated as distinct chemical populations in terms of their volatile chemical profiles, (3) insect visitation rates differed between hemiparasites parasitizing different hosts, and (4) volatile compounds from the host and the hemiparasite influenced the visitation of hemiparasite flowers by insects. The study showed that a species regarded as “ornithophilic” by its floral morphology was actually mostly visited by insects that interacted with its sexual organs during their visits and carried its pollen, and that host-specific plant-volatile profiles within the T. verticillatus population were associated with differential attractiveness to pollinating insects.


Host-parasite chemical ecology Tristerix verticillatus Loranthaceae Volatile organic compounds Plant–plant interactions 



We are indebted to FONDECYT (grant 1080248 to H. M. N.), CONICYT-PBCT Anillo ACT-38, the Latin American Network for Research on Bioactive Natural Compounds (LANBIO), the International Foundation for Science (grant 4356–1 to A. J. T.) and Universidad de Chile (grants 04–26 and 05–21 to N. J. C.) for financial support. N. J. C. is indebted to CONICYT for a graduate fellowship. We thank Claudia Cabrillana and Carolina Mendoza for their help with the chemical analyses, and to I. Municipalidad de Lo Barnechea for a permit to perform the studies at the Yerba Loca Natural Sanctuary. We are indebted to two anonymous reviewers whose constructive comments improved the original version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alejandra J. Troncoso
    • 1
  • Nancy J. Cabezas
    • 1
  • Eric H. Faúndez
    • 1
  • Alejandro Urzúa
    • 2
  • Hermann M. Niemeyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Departamento de Ciencias del Ambiente, Facultad de Química y BiologíaUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiagoChile

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