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Floral scent contributes to interaction specificity in coevolving plants and their insect pollinators.


Chemical defenses, repellents, and attractants are important shapers of species interactions. Chemical attractants could contribute to the divergence of coevolving plant-insect interactions, if pollinators are especially responsive to signals from the local plant species. We experimentally investigated patterns of daily floral scent production in three Lithophragma species (Saxifragaceae) that are geographically isolated and tested how scent divergence affects attraction of their major pollinator-the floral parasitic moth Greya politella (Prodoxidae). These moths oviposit through the corolla while simultaneously pollinating the flower with pollen adhering to the abdomen. The complex and species-specific floral scent profiles were emitted in higher amounts during the day, when these day-flying moths are active. There was minimal divergence found in petal color, which is another potential floral attractant. Female moths responded most strongly to scent from their local host species in olfactometer bioassays, and were more likely to oviposit in, and thereby pollinate, their local host species in no-choice trials. The results suggest that floral scent is an important attractant in this interaction. Local specialization in the pollinator response to a highly specific plant chemistry, thus, has the potential to contribute importantly to patterns of interaction specificity among coevolving plants and highly specialized pollinators.

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