Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 258, Issue 1–2, pp 17–26 | Cite as

A supplementary contribution of ants in the pollination of an orchid, Epipactis thunbergii, usually pollinated by hover flies

  • N. SugiuraEmail author
  • S. Miyazaki
  • S. Nagaishi


It has been controversial how extensively ants contribute to pollination, and we evaluated the contribution of the Japanese carpenter ant, Camponotus japonicus, to the pollination of an orchid, Epipactis thunbergii. Two-year field studies revealed that (1) the ant workers foraged even in cool/cloudy conditions and accordingly visited orchid flowers more frequently (about 40% of all the visitors) than hover flies, the principle pollinators (10–20%), and that (2) the flower-visiting ants occasionally removed pollinia from the anther and then delivered pollen onto the stigmatic surface of other flowers, although self-pollination might frequently occur in the consecutive visits of flowers within an inflorescence. An artificial pollination experiment with pollinia which had been transferred to the ant integument showed that (3) the treated flowers produced as many fruits and seeds as control flowers. We concluded that C. japonicus workers could actually pollinate E. thunbergii flowers and their relative importance as pollinators appeared to be largely dependent on the abundance of flower-visiting workers or weather conditions during the flowering period, which mainly determined the availability of hover flies.


Ant pollination metapleural glands orchid Orchidaceae Epipactis Camponotus 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Armstrong, J. A. 1979Biotic pollination mechanisms in Australian flora – a reviewNew Zealand J. Bot17467508Google Scholar
  2. Beattie, A. J. 1985The evolutionary ecology of ant–plant mutualismsCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Beattie, A. J., Turnbull, C. L., Hough, T., Knox, R. B. 1986Antibiotic production: a possible function for metapleural glands of antsAnn. Entomol. Soc. Amer79448450Google Scholar
  4. Beattie, A. J., Turnbull, C., Knox, R. B., Williams, E. G. 1984Ant inhibition of pollen function: a possible reason why ant pollination is rareAmer. J. Bot71421426Google Scholar
  5. Ehlers, B. K., Olesen, J. M., Ågren, J. 2002Floral morphology and reproductive success in the orchid Epipactis helleborine: regional and local across–habitat variationPl. Syst. Evol2361932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Faegri, K., Pijl, L. 1979The principles of pollination ecology, ed. 3Pergamon PressOxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Galen, C., Cuba, J. 2001Down the tube: Pollinators, predators, and the evolution of flower shape in the alpine skypilot, Polemonium viscosumEvolution5519631971PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. García, M. B., Antor, R. J., Espadaler, X. 1995Ant pollination of the palaeoendemic dioecious Borderea pyrenaica (Dioscoreaceae)Pl. Syst. Evol1981727CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ghazoul, J. 2001Can floral repellents pre–empt potential ant–plant conflicts?Ecol. Letters4295299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gómez, J. M. 2000Effectiveness of ants as pollinators of Lobularia maritima: effects on main sequential fitness components of the host plantOecologia1229097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gómez, J. M., Zamora, R. 1992Pollination by ants: consequences of the quantitative effects on a mutualistic systemOecologia91410418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gómez, J. M., Zamora, R., Hódar, J. A., García, D. 1996Experimental study of pollination by ants in Mediterranean high mountain and arid habitatsOecologia105236242Google Scholar
  13. Hashimoto, T., Kanda, K., Murakawa, H. 1991Japanese indigenous orchids in colour: revised and enlargedIenohikari AssociationTokyoGoogle Scholar
  14. Herrera, C. M., Herrera, J., Espadaler, X. 1984Nectar thievery by ants from southern Spanish insect-pollinated flowersInsect. Soc31142154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hölldobler, B., Engel–Siegel, H. 1984On the metapleural gland of antsPsyche91201224Google Scholar
  16. Hull, D. A., Beattie, A. J. 1988Adverse effects on pollen exposed to Atta texana and other North American ants: implications for ant pollinationOecologia75153155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Inouye, D. W. 1980The terminology of floral larcenyEcology6112511253Google Scholar
  18. Maschwitz, U. 1974Vergleichende Untersuchungen zur Funktion der AmeisenmetathorakaldrüseOecologia16303310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Maschwitz, U., Koob, K., Schildknecht., H. 1970Ein Beitrag zur Funktion der Metapleuraldrüse der AmeisenJ. Insect Physiol16387404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Peakall R. (1984) Observations on the pollination of Leporella fimbriata (Lindl.) A. S. George. The Orchadian 44–45.Google Scholar
  21. Peakall, R. 1989The unique pollination of Leporella fimbriata (Orchidaceae): pollination by pseudocopulating male ants (Myrmecia urens, Formicidae)Pl. Syst. Evol167137148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peakall, R. 1994Interactions between orchids and antsArditti, J. eds. Orchid biology: reviews and perspectives, VIJohn Wiley & SonsNew York103134Google Scholar
  23. Peakall, R., Beattie, A.J. 1989Pollination of the orchid Microtis parviflora R. Br. by flightless worker antsFunct. Ecol3515522Google Scholar
  24. Peakall, R., James, S. H. 1989Outcrossing in an ant pollinated clonal orchidHeredity62161167Google Scholar
  25. Peakall, R., Angus, C.J., Beattie, A.J. 1990The significance of ant and plant traits for ant pollination in Leporella fimbriataOecologia84457460Google Scholar
  26. Peakall, R., Handel, S. N., Beattie, A. J. 1991The evidence for, and importance of, ant pollinationHuxley, C. R.Cutler, D. F. eds. Ant–plant interactionsOxford University PressOxford421429Google Scholar
  27. Pedersen, H. Æ. P., Ehlers, B. K. 2000Local evolution of obligate autogamy in Epipactis helleborine subsp. neerlandica (Orchidaceae)Pl. Syst. Evol223173183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Proctor, M., Yeo, P. 1973The pollination of flowersCollinsLondonGoogle Scholar
  29. Puterbaugh, M. N. 1998The roles of ants as flower visitors: experimental analysis in three alpine plant speciesOikos833446Google Scholar
  30. Raine, N. E., Willmer, P., Stone, G. N. 2002Spatial structuring and floral avoidance behavior prevent ant–pollinator conflict in a Mexican ant-acaciaEcology8330863096Google Scholar
  31. Ramsey, M. 1995Ant pollination of the perennial herb Blandfordia grandiflora (Liliaceae)Oikos74265272Google Scholar
  32. Sanderson, T., Wright, P. J. 1989Inhibition of pollen germination by ant secretionsActes Coll. Insect. Soc52530Google Scholar
  33. Satomi, N. 1982OrchidaceaeSatake, Y.Ohwi, J.Kitamura, S.Watari, S.Tominari, T. eds. Wild flowers of Japan: herbaceous plants IHeibonshaTokyo187235Google Scholar
  34. Schürch, S., Pfunder, M., Roy, B. A. 2000Effects of ants on the reproductive success of Euphorbia cyparissias and associated pathogenic rust fungiOikos88612Google Scholar
  35. Sugiura, N. 1996Pollination of the orchid Epipactis thunbergii by syrphid flies (Diptera: Syrphidae)Ecol. Res11249255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wagner, D., Kay, A. 2002Do extrafloral nectaries distract ants from visiting flowers? An experimental test of an overlooked hypothesisEvol. Ecol. Res4293305Google Scholar
  37. Willmer, P. G., Stone, G. N. 1997How aggressive ant–guards assist seed–set in Acacia flowersNature388165167CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ScienceKumamoto UniversityKumamotoJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of Environmental Earth ScienceHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan

Personalised recommendations