Journal Article

The mechanism of pollinator specificity between two sympatric fig varieties: a combination of olfactory signals and contact cues

Gang Wang, Stephen G. Compton and Jin Chen

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 111, issue 2, pages 173-181
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
The mechanism of pollinator specificity between two sympatric fig varieties: a combination of olfactory signals and contact cues

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Background and Aims

Pollinator specificity facilitates reproductive isolation among plants, and mechanisms that generate specificity influence species boundaries. Long-range volatile attractants, in combination with morphological co-adaptations, are generally regarded as being responsible for maintaining extreme host specificity among the fig wasps that pollinate fig trees, but increasing evidence for breakdowns in specificity is accumulating. The basis of host specificity was examined among two host-specific Ceratosolen fig wasps that pollinate two sympatric varieties of Ficus semicordata, together with the consequences for the plants when pollinators entered the alternative host variety.


The compositions of floral scents from receptive figs of the two varieties and responses of their pollinators to these volatiles were compared. The behaviour of the wasps once on the surface of the figs was also recorded, together with the reproductive success of figs entered by the two Ceratosolen species.

Key Results

The receptive-phase floral scents of the two varieties had different chemical compositions, but only one Ceratosolen species displayed a preference between them in Y-tube trials. Specificity was reinforced at a later stage, once pollinators were walking on the figs, because both species preferred to enter figs of their normal hosts. Both pollinators could enter figs of both varieties and pollinate them, but figs with extra-varietal pollen were more likely to abort and contained fewer seeds. Hybrid seeds germinated at normal rates.


Contact cues on the surface of figs have been largely ignored in previous studies of fig wasp host preferences, but together with floral scents they maintain host specificity among the pollinators of sympatric F. semicordata varieties. When pollinators enter atypical hosts, post-zygotic factors reduce but do not prevent the production of hybrid offspring, suggesting there may be gene flow between these varieties.

Keywords: Contact cues; Ficus semicordata; floral scents; host recognition; hybridization; pollination; pollinator specificity; reproductive isolation

Journal Article.  6373 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Reproduction and Propagation

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