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Sexual Deception in the Eucera-Pollinated Ophrys leochroma: A Chemical Intermediate between Wasp- and Andrena-Pollinated Species

Abstract

Ophrys flowers mimic sex pheromones of attractive females of their pollinators and attract males, which attempt to copulate with the flower and thereby pollinate it. Virgin females and orchid flowers are known to use the same chemical compounds in order to attract males. The composition of the sex pheromone and its floral analogue, however, vary between pollinator genera. Wasp-pollinated Ophrys species attract their pollinators by using polar hydroxy acids, whereas Andrena-pollinated species use a mixture of non-polar hydrocarbons. The phylogeny of Ophrys shows that its evolution was marked by episodes of rapid diversification coinciding with shifts to different pollinator groups: from wasps to Eucera and consequently to Andrena and other bees. To gain further insights, we studied pollinator attraction in O. leochroma in the context of intra- and inter-generic pollinator shifts, radiation, and diversification in the genus Ophrys. Our model species, O. leochroma, is pollinated by Eucera kullenbergi males and lies in the phylogeny between the wasp and Andrena-pollinated species; therefore, it is a remarkable point to understand pollinator shifts. We collected surface extracts of attractive E. kullenbergi females and labellum extracts of O. leochroma and analyzed them by using gas chromatography with electroantennographic detection (GC-EAD) and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). We also performed field bioassays. Our results show that O. leochroma mimics the sex pheromone of its pollinator’s female by using aldehydes, alcohols, fatty acids, and non-polar compounds (hydrocarbons). Therefore, in terms of the chemistry of pollinator attraction, Eucera-pollinated Ophrys species might represent an intermediate stage between wasp- and Andrena-pollinated orchid species.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Hannes Paulus, Eva Weber, Annika Wess, and Manuel Stech-Domene for helping us collect plant and bee material and Omer Nevo and Hannah Burger for many helpful comments and discussions on an early version of the manuscript. We are further grateful for the constructive comments of associate editor Wittko Francke. This research was supported by Departamento Administrativo de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (Colciencias) throught its Créditos Condonables para estudios de Doctorado en el Exterior-2011 (granted to MC).

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Correspondence to Monica Cuervo.

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Cuervo, M., Rakosy, D., Martel, C. et al. Sexual Deception in the Eucera-Pollinated Ophrys leochroma: A Chemical Intermediate between Wasp- and Andrena-Pollinated Species. J Chem Ecol 43, 469–479 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-017-0848-6

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Keywords

  • Sexually deceptive orchid Ophrys leochroma
  • Long-horned bee Eucera kullenbergi
  • Chemical mimicry
  • Pollinator shift
  • Medium polar and non-polar compounds