Pollinator specialization in the enigmatic Rafflesia cantleyi

A true carrion flower with species-specific and sex-biased blow fly pollinators

Wee Suk Ling, Shwu Bing Tan, Andreas Jürgens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The plants of the enigmatic genus Rafflesia are well known for their gigantic flowers and their floral features such as pungent floral scent and vivid dark color, which mimics the food/brood sites of carrion. However, information on the pollination biology of this plant group remains limited and mostly anecdotal. In the present paper, we studied the floral volatiles of R. cantleyi Solms-Laubach and their role in pollinator attraction. To achieve these aims, the floral scent was collected in situ in the field using a dynamic headspace method followed by chemical analysis via GC-MS. The olfactory preferences of pollinators to the identified chemical compounds, were tested singly and in blends, in flight tunnel bioassays and compared with responses to headspace floral extracts. In addition, flower-visiting calliphorid flies and the local carrion fly community were sampled and identified. Five species of calliphorid flies (subfamilies of Chrysomyinae and Calliphorinae), all females, were found on the flowers, whereas nine species were found in the traps that were baited with tainted meat in the surrounding habitat. However, only flower visitors of one blow fly species, Chrysomya chani Kurahashi, were observed to carry R. cantleyi pollen after visiting male flowers. The floral volatiles emitted by male flowers in full bloom were dominated by two sulphur-containing compounds, dimethyl disulfide (DMDS) and dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS). These were accompanied by other minor compounds such as benzenoids (4), monoterpenoids (4), trace amounts of aliphatic compounds (1), and sesquiterpenes (1). In flight-tunnel bioassays, a female-specific positive response of C. chani flies to individual DMDS, DMTS, and a blend of DMDS and DMTS was evident. Our findings suggest that R. cantleyi biochemically mimics carrion and that relative ratio of oligosulfides in the floral scent play a key role in sex-biased pollinator specialization, attracting only female C. chani carrion flies to the flowers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-128
Number of pages9
JournalPhytochemistry
Volume153
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018

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Rafflesia
dead animals
Calliphoridae
pollinating insects
Diptera
Bioassay
flowers
carrion insects
gender
Tunnels
male flowers
odors
Monoterpenes
blended foods
Chemical compounds
Sesquiterpenes
Meats
headspace analysis
Sulfur
flight

Keywords

  • Calliphoridae
  • Carrion flower
  • Carrion-mimicry
  • Chrysomya chani
  • Oligosulfides
  • Rafflesia cantleyi
  • Rafflesiaceae
  • Sapromyiophilous syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Plant Science
  • Horticulture

Cite this

Pollinator specialization in the enigmatic Rafflesia cantleyi : A true carrion flower with species-specific and sex-biased blow fly pollinators. / Suk Ling, Wee; Tan, Shwu Bing; Jürgens, Andreas.

In: Phytochemistry, Vol. 153, 01.09.2018, p. 120-128.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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abstract = "The plants of the enigmatic genus Rafflesia are well known for their gigantic flowers and their floral features such as pungent floral scent and vivid dark color, which mimics the food/brood sites of carrion. However, information on the pollination biology of this plant group remains limited and mostly anecdotal. In the present paper, we studied the floral volatiles of R. cantleyi Solms-Laubach and their role in pollinator attraction. To achieve these aims, the floral scent was collected in situ in the field using a dynamic headspace method followed by chemical analysis via GC-MS. The olfactory preferences of pollinators to the identified chemical compounds, were tested singly and in blends, in flight tunnel bioassays and compared with responses to headspace floral extracts. In addition, flower-visiting calliphorid flies and the local carrion fly community were sampled and identified. Five species of calliphorid flies (subfamilies of Chrysomyinae and Calliphorinae), all females, were found on the flowers, whereas nine species were found in the traps that were baited with tainted meat in the surrounding habitat. However, only flower visitors of one blow fly species, Chrysomya chani Kurahashi, were observed to carry R. cantleyi pollen after visiting male flowers. The floral volatiles emitted by male flowers in full bloom were dominated by two sulphur-containing compounds, dimethyl disulfide (DMDS) and dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS). These were accompanied by other minor compounds such as benzenoids (4), monoterpenoids (4), trace amounts of aliphatic compounds (1), and sesquiterpenes (1). In flight-tunnel bioassays, a female-specific positive response of C. chani flies to individual DMDS, DMTS, and a blend of DMDS and DMTS was evident. Our findings suggest that R. cantleyi biochemically mimics carrion and that relative ratio of oligosulfides in the floral scent play a key role in sex-biased pollinator specialization, attracting only female C. chani carrion flies to the flowers.",
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