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Oecologia. 2006 Feb;147(1):60-8. Epub 2005 Sep 27.

Lack of floral nectar reduces self-pollination in a fly-pollinated orchid.

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  • 1School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu Natal, Private Bag X01, Pietermaritzburg, ZA 3209, South Africa.


One explanation for the widespread absence of floral nectar in many orchids is that it causes pollinators to visit fewer flowers on a plant, and thus reduces self-pollination. This, in turn, could increase fitness by reducing inbreeding depression in progeny and promoting pollen export. The few previous investigations of this hypothesis have all involved bee-pollinated orchids and some have given contradictory results. We studied the effects of adding artificial nectar (sucrose solution) to the spurs of a non-rewarding long-proboscid fly-pollinated orchid, Disa pulchra. Addition of nectar significantly increased the number of flowers probed by flies (2.6-fold), the time spent on a flower (5.4-fold), the number of pollinia removed per inflorescence (4.8-fold) and the proportion of removed pollen involved in self-pollination (3.5-fold). The level of self-pollination increased dramatically with the number of flowers probed by flies. Experimental self-pollination resulted in fruits with only half as many viable seeds as those arising from cross-pollination. Pollinators were more likely to fly long distances (>40 cm) when departing from non-rewarding inflorescences than when departing from rewarding ones. These findings provide support for the idea that floral deception serves to reduce pollinator-mediated self-pollination.

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