Journal Article

Extreme divergence in floral scent among woodland star species (<i>Lithophragma</i> spp.) pollinated by floral parasites

Magne Friberg, Christopher Schwind, Robert A. Raguso and John N. Thompson

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 111, issue 4, pages 539-550
Published in print April 2013 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online January 2013 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Extreme divergence in floral scent among woodland star species (Lithophragma spp.) pollinated by floral parasites

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Backgrounds and Aims

A current challenge in coevolutionary biology is to understand how suites of traits vary as coevolving lineages diverge. Floral scent is often a complex, variable trait that attracts a suite of generalized pollinators, but may be highly specific in plants specialized on attracting coevolved pollinating floral parasites. In this study, floral scent variation was investigated in four species of woodland stars (Lithophragma spp.) that share the same major pollinator (the moth Greya politella, a floral parasite). Three specific hypotheses were tested: (1) sharing the same specific major pollinator favours conservation of floral scent among close relatives; (2) selection favours ‘private channels’ of rare compounds particularly aimed at the specialist pollinator; or (3) selection from rare, less-specialized co-pollinators mitigates the conservation of floral scent and occurrence of private channels.


Dynamic headspace sampling and solid-phase microextraction were applied to greenhouse-grown plants from a common garden as well as to field samples from natural populations in a series of experiments aiming to disentangle the genetic and environmental basis of floral scent variation.

Key Results

Striking floral scent divergence was discovered among species. Only one of 69 compounds was shared among all four species. Scent variation was largely genetically based, because it was consistent across field and greenhouse treatments, and was not affected by visits from the pollinating floral parasite.


The strong divergence in floral scents among Lithophragma species contrasts with the pattern of conserved floral scent composition found in other plant genera involved in mutualisms with pollinating floral parasites. Unlike some of these other obligate pollination mutualisms, Lithophragma plants in some populations are occasionally visited by generalist pollinators from other insect taxa. This additional complexity may contribute to the diversification in floral scent found among the Lithophragma species pollinated by Greya moths.

Keywords: Lithophragma affine; L. cymbalaria; L. heterophyllum; L. parviflorum; Saxifragaceae; Prodoxidae; coevolution; obligate mutualism; pollinating floral parasite; private channel; phenotypic plasticity; plant–insect interactions

Journal Article.  8842 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Reproduction and Propagation

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