According to the authors of an article appearing in the journal New Phytologist, the pollination of about 4-6% of all flowering plants is based on deceit, “whereby plants advertise a reward but ultimately do not provide it.”
Most known species of plants in the genus Aristolochia are known to cheat pollinators, and the researchers have figured out how one species in particular — Aristolochia rotunda — goes about it.
First, insect pollinators of A. rotunda were collected in the natural habitat and identified. The main pollinators turned out to be female flies in the family Chloropidae. These flies are known to be “food thieves” that feed on the secretions of true bugs in the family Miridae after they’ve been captured by spiders, praying mantises, or other predatory arthropods that feed on insects.
The researchers used chemical analytical techniques to analyze scents from the freshly killed bugs and from the Aristolochia flowers, and they found them to be the same.
“Freshly killed mirids and Aristolochia flowers released the same scent components that chloropids use to find their food sources,” they wrote. “Aristolochia exploits these components to deceive their chloropid pollinators … We demonstrate for A. rotunda, and hypothesize for other deceptive angiosperms, the evolution of a different, kleptomyiophilous pollination strategy. It involves scent mimicry and the exploitation of kleptoparasitic flies as pollinators.”
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