Ceropegia sandersonii mimics attacked honeybees to attract kleptoparasitic flies for pollination

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2016
Authors:A. Heiduk, Brake, I., von Tschirnhaus, M., Göhl, M., Jürgens, A., Johnson, S. D., Meve, U., Dötterl, S.
Journal:Current Biology
Date Published:2016/10/24

Four to six percent of plants, distributed over different angiosperm families, entice pollinators by deception [1]. In these systems, chemical mimicry is often used as an efficient way to exploit the olfactory preferences of animals for the purpose of attracting them as pollinators [2,3]. Here, we report a very specific type of chemical mimicry of a food source. Ceropegia sandersonii (Apocynaceae), a deceptive South African plant with pitfall flowers, mimics attacked honeybees. We identified kleptoparasitic Desmometopa flies (Milichiidae) as the main pollinators of C. sandersonii. These flies are well known to feed on honeybees that are eaten by spiders, which we thus predicted as the model chemically mimicked by the plant. Indeed, we found that the floral scent of C. sandersonii is comparable to volatiles released from honeybees when under simulated attack. Moreover, many of these shared compounds elicited physiological responses in antennae of pollinating Desmometopa flies. A mixture of four compounds—geraniol, 2-heptanone, 2-nonanol, and (E)-2-octen-1-yl acetate—was highly attractive to the flies. We conclude that C. sandersonii is specialized on kleptoparasitic fly pollinators by deploying volatiles linked to the flies’ food source, i.e., attacked and/or freshly killed honeybees. The blend of compounds emitted by C. sandersonii is unusual among flowering plants and lures kleptoparasitic flies into the trap flowers. This study describes a new example of how a plant can achieve pollination through chemical mimicry of the food sources of adult carnivorous animals.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith