Sexual deception as a pollination strategy investigated in three Pterostylis greenhood orchids in New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Background and Aims Sexual deception is a species-specific pollination strategy commonly found in Orchidaceae. Sexually deceptive orchids lure male insect pollinators by mimicking the sex pheromones and/or appearance of female insects, which elicit copulatory behaviour with the flower by the male insects. This specialised pollination strategy has recently been found in a Pterostylis species in Australia. Pterostylis orchids also occur in New Zealand, although very few studies have been done on this genus, and no such specialised insect pollination strategy has been documented in New Zealand. Methods I investigated the breeding system and pollinators of three Pterostylis spp. to determine whether sexual deception may be operating in P. oliveri, P. irsoniana and P. venosa growing in native beech forests in Arthur's Pass. We also investigated the floral headspace volatiles of P. oliveri to determine which compounds are present, and which may be responsible for pollinator attraction. Key Results Breeding system experiments suggest that P. oliveri and P. irsoniana are self compatible, but exclusively dependent on insects for pollination. Only male fungus gnats (Diptera: Mycetophilidae) were found carrying pollinia attached to their thoraxes in traps set up over the flowers. Insect identification and ITS DNA analysis of the pollinia showed that each orchid species was pollinated by a specific fungus gnat species; Mycetophila latifascia males found with pollen of P. oliveri; Morganiella fusca males found with pollen of P. irsoniana; and Tetragoneura sp. males found with pollen of P. venosa. Field tests of an unidentified compound found in headspace volatiles of P. oliveri did not attract any Mycetophila latifascia males. Conclusions These results indicate that pollination via sexual deception may be operating in these three Pterostylis spp. However, further floral volatile analyses are required to confirm whether the flowers emit volatile compounds that resemble the sex pheromones of the specific pollinators.