Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Orchid Tricks Hoverflies

15.10.2010
Eastern marsh helleborine mimics aphid alarm pheromones to attract pollinators
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have discovered the trick the orchid Epipactis veratrifolia uses to attract pollinating hoverflies.

The plant’s flower practices a very special mimicry: It produces three chemical substances that are usually emitted as alarm pheromones among aphids. Hoverfly females smell the alarm and lay their eggs close to the aphids, which are the perfect baby food for their hatching larvae.


Eastern marsh helleborine (Epipactis veratrifolia), an orchid species, has successfully lured a hoverfly of the genus Ischiodon by mimicking alarm pheromones usually emitted by aphids. MPI Chemical Ecology, Johannes Stökl

By mimicking these alarm pheromones, the orchid takes advantage of the hoverfly females, deceiving them into pollinating its flower. The flies even lay their eggs on the flower. However, the hatching larvae are doomed, because no aphids are available in the orchid flower. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, October 13, 2010)

Beautiful but cunning

Even Darwin was a self-admitted orchid lover. Dictionaries describe orchids as exotic ornamentals. Indeed, these plants – more than 30000 different species are thought to exist – are exotic due their extraordinary and diverse flower morphology. However, they are also exotic from a point of view other than beauty: as crafty imposters in order to achieve reproduction and to make sure that their ovaries are pollinated. Orchids depend on the assistance of pollinators, and like many other flowering plants, attract insects.

Epipactis veratrifolia, an orchid native in South Turkey, the Middle East, and Cyprus, has specialized in hoverflies. Because these insects prefer aphids as food for their larvae, the orchid produces three aphid alarm substances, α- and β-pinene, and β-myrcene and β-phellandrene, all of which attract hoverfly females. Interestingly, as the scientists observed, even male hoverflies hang around the orchids, hoping for a chance to copulate with the attracted females.

A bit of nectar as reward

“Hoverfly females as well as males enjoy the small amount of nectar the orchid flower provides. Both sexes serve as pollen transmitters,” says ecologist Johannes Stökl. The alarm substances lure five of the different hoverfly species that feed on aphids. Females lay all their eggs in the flower of the orchid, although no aphids are there. “We assume that the insects are not only deceived by the aphid alarm pheromones, but also fall for the aphid-like dark warts in the orchid’s flower,” explains Bill Hansson, director at the Max Planck Institute.

Mass spectra and electroantennograms

The aphid species Megoura viciae preferred by Episyrphus balteatus hoverflies produces α- and β-pinene as well as β-myrcene. These volatile substances generate measurable electrical impulses in the hoverfly antennae. Behavioral experiments carried out by the research team supported the assumption that it is exactly these substances that attract hoverflies and encourage oviposition. Further analyses revealed that the orchid Epipactis veratrifolia does not mimic the alarm pheromones of just one aphid species, because the volatiles emitted by the aphids and the flower differ in amount and constitution.

An evolutionary dead end?

Is Epipactis veratrifolia a ruthless imposter? Johannes Stökl answers: “At least the plant provides a small amount of nectar for the deceived hoverflies. This is comparable to two related species, the wasp-pollinated orchids E. helleborine and E. purpurata, which lure stingy insects by mimicking their prey, mostly butterfly larvae. However, unlike Epipactis veratrifolia these species reward their pollinators by providing large amounts of nectar.”

Nevertheless, the scientist would classify the Eastern marsh helleborine as a treacherous imposter, because hoverfly larvae hatching from the eggs laid in its flowers won’t find any food there and must die. From an evolutionary perspective this seems to be a contradiction: If hoverfly larvae die, the population of this species is decimated and as a consequence the number of pollinators decreases.

“We cannot provide a coherent explanation of this conflict. However, we can imagine where the mimicry of the alarm pheromone is originated,” says Bill Hansson. The plant is remarkably aphid-free, probably due to the emission of α- and β-pinine. These two volatiles are produced by aphids in case of danger. Therefore aphids avoid everything that smells of α- and β-pinine. Both substances may have originally been used by the Eastern marsh helleborine as a defense against aphids. Once hoverflies were fooled and mistook the volatiles for aphids, they also served the purpose of attracting pollinators. [JWK, AO]

Original Publication

Johannes Stökl, Jennifer Brodmann, Amots Dafni, Manfred Ayasse, Bill S. Hansson: Smells like aphids: orchid flowers mimic aphid alarm pheromones to attract hoverflies for pollination. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Online, October 13, 2010, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1770

Further Information:

Prof. Dr. Bill S. Hansson, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Straße 8, 07745 Jena, Germany, phone +49 (0)3641/57-1400, -1401; mobile: +49 (0)175 4308222; hansson@ice.mpg.de

Dr. Johannes Stökl, Regensburg University, Universitätsstraße 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany, phone. +49 (0)941 943 2155, mobile +49 (0)179 9430400, johannes.stoekl@biologie.uni-regensburg.de

Picture Requests:

Angela Overmeyer, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Straße 8, 07745 Jena, Germany. Tel.: +49 (0)3641- 57 2110; overmeyer@ice.mpg.de

Dr. Jan-Wolfhard Kellmann | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.ice.mpg.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides
16.07.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

nachricht The secret sulfate code that lets the bad Tau in
16.07.2018 | American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>