Floral volatiles, pollinator sharing and diversification in the fig-wasp mutualism: Insights from Ficus natalensis, and its two wasp pollinators (South Africa)

Cornille A. ; Underhill J.G. ; Cruaud A. ; Hossaert-McKey M. ; Johnson S.D. ; Tolley K.A. ; Kjellberg F. ; van Noort S. ; Proffit M. (2012)


Combining biogeographic, ecological, morphological, molecular and chemical data, we document departure from strict specialization in the fig-pollinating wasp mutualism. We show that the pollinating wasps Elisabethiella stuckenbergi and Elisabethiella socotrensis form a species complex of five lineages in East and Southern Africa. Up to two morphologically distinct lineages were found to co-occur locally in the southern African region.Wasps belonging to a single lineage were frequently the main regional pollinators of several Ficus species. In South Africa, two sister lineages, E. stuckenbergi and E. socotrensis, pollinate Ficus natalensis but only E. stuckenbergi also regularly pollinates Ficus burkei. The two wasp species co-occur in individual trees of F. natalensis throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Floral volatile blends emitted by F. natalensis in KwaZulu-Natal were similar to those emitted by F. burkei and different from those produced by other African Ficus species. The fig odour similarity suggests evolutionary convergence to attract particular wasp species. The observed pattern may result from selection for pollinator sharing among Ficus species. Such a process, with one wasp species regionally pollinating several hosts, but several wasp species pollinating a given Ficus species across its geographical range could play an important role in the evolutionary dynamics of the Ficus-pollinating wasp association. © 2012 The Royal Society.

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