Nectar thieves or invited pollinators? A case study of tansy flowers and common house mosquitoes


Mosquitoes are generally considered nectar thieves that do not contribute to the pollination of the flowers they visit. Here we tested the hypothesis that the common house mosquito, Culex pipiens, contributes to the pollination of tansies, Tanacetum vulgare, and possibly the pollination of other members of the Asteraceae (Achillea millefolium, Leucanthemum vulgare, Solidago canadensis). To test this hypothesis, we (1) field-collected mosquitoes probing inflorescences of T. vulgare, A. millefolium, and L. vulgare, and recorded the number and distribution of pollen grains on their bodies, (2) exposed laboratory-reared Cx. pipiens to inflorescences of T. vulgare, A. millefolium, and S. canadensis, and (3) ran pollination experiments with Cx. pipiens and T. vulgare in a greenhouse. We found (1) that 41 of 164 field-collected Cx. pipiens carried pollen, (2) that 48, 34, and 34 % of Cx. pipiens accumulated pollen from T. vulgare, A. millefolium, and S. canadensis, respectively, during floral visits of greenhouse-grown specimens, and (3) that cross-pollination by Cx. pipiens resulted in significant seed set of T. vulgare in pollination experiments. Based on our observations that Cx. pipiens are frequent floral visitors and are able to carry pollen and to induce seed set in T. vulgare, it is clear that Cx. pipiens plays a role in the pollination of T. vulgare, and possibly other members of the Asteraceae.

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We thank Michael Hrabar for mosquito photographs, Rolf Mathewes for assistance with pollen identification and botanical terminology, Elizabeth Elle for feedback, Heather Coatsworth and Joyce Leung for assistance collecting mosquito specimens, Sharon Oliver for discussion, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments. The research was supported by scholarships to DP (Master of Pest Management Graduate Entrance Scholarship, CD Nelson Memorial Entrance Scholarship, Sharon Clements Biological Science Award, Simon Fraser University Graduate Fellowships, Thelma Finlayson Graduate Fellowship, Provost’s Prize of Distinction), and by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada—Industrial Research Chair to GG—with Scotts Canada Ltd. as the industrial sponsor.

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Correspondence to Daniel A. H. Peach.

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Peach, D.A.H., Gries, G. Nectar thieves or invited pollinators? A case study of tansy flowers and common house mosquitoes. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 10, 497–506 (2016).

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  • Pollination
  • Culex pipiens
  • Tanacetum vulgare
  • Asteraceae
  • Mosquitoes