Olfactory versus visual cues in a floral mimicry system
We used arrays of artificial flowers with and without fragrance to determine the importance of olfactory and visual cues in attracting insects to a floral mimic. The mimic is a fungus, Puccinia monoica Arth., which causes its crucifer hosts (here, Arabis drummondii Gray) to form pseudoflowers that mimic co-occurring flowers such as the buttercup, Ranunculus inamoenus Greene. Although pseudoflowers are visually similar to buttercups, their sweet fragrance is distinct. To determine whether visitors to pseudoflowers were responding to fragrance we performed an experiment in which we removed the visual cues, but allowed fragrance to still be perceived. In this experiment we found that pseudoflower fragrance can attract visitors by itself. In other experiments we found that the relative importance of olfactory and visual cues depended on the species of visitor. Halictid bees (Dialictus sp.) had a somewhat greater visual than olfactory response, whereas flies (muscids and anthomyiids) were more dependent on olfactory cues. We also used bioassays to determine which of the many compounds present in the natural fragrance were responsible for attraction. We found that halictid bees were equally attracted to pseudoflowers and to a blend containing phenylacetaldehyde, 2-phenylethanol, benzaldehyde and methylbenzoate in the same relative concentrations as in pseudoflowers. Flies, on the other hand, only responded to pseudoflower scent, indicating that we have not yet identified the compound(s) present in pseudoflowers that are attracting them. The ability of insects to differentiate pseudoflowers from true flowers by their fragrance may be important in the evolution of the mimicry system. Different fragrances may facilitate proper transfer of both fungal spermatia and pollen, and thus make it possible for the visual mimicry to evolve.
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