‘Push’ and ‘pull’ responses by fig wasps to volatiles released by their host figs
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In the specific mutualism between fig trees (Ficus) and their obligate pollinating fig wasps (Agaonidae), it is crucial that fig wasps can recognize the developmental stages of their host figs. However, the responses of fig wasps to volatiles released from figs during their developmental phases are less clearly understood and are the focus of this study. We extracted and identified the volatiles released from the figs of Ficus curtipes throughout their development. Using Y-tube choice experiments, we also compared the behavioural responses of the tree’s pollinator (Eupristina sp.) to figs at different developmental stages, and compared these results to those obtained by trapping fig wasps as they arrived at a tree with a developing fig crop. The chemical composition of the fig volatiles changed during fig development with the blends exhibiting clear segregation among figs at different developmental phases. Male phase figs had the most distinct blend. Fig wasp females were preferentially attracted to receptive figs, but figs at most other developmental phases were also attractive. Conversely, male phase figs had a repellent effect. These results were supported by the behaviour of the wasps under natural conditions, with small numbers of fig wasps arriving at the tree before and after receptive figs were present. These results indicate a more complex relationship between fig volatiles and fig wasp behaviour than previously realized, with volatiles mediating both the initial meeting of the mutualists to achieve pollination and egg laying and the subsequent departure of the next generation of fig wasps. This offers an explanation for the specialization and long-term coexistence of figs and fig wasps.
KeywordsAgaonidae Behavioural response Chemical communication Ficus Mutualism Obligate pollinator
We thank Zhen Yu for help in chemical analyses, and the two anonymous reviewers for suggestions and criticisms. Funding for this work was supported by the Chinese Natural Science Foundation (30970403 and 30970439).
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