Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Why are There so Many Bee-Orchid Species? Adaptive Radiation by Intraspecific Competition for Mnemonic Pollinators

Version 1 : Received: 16 October 2019 / Approved: 17 October 2019 / Online: 17 October 2019 (15:12:38 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Baguette, M.; Bertrand, J. A. M.; Stevens, V. M.; Schatz, B. Why Are There so Many Bee‐orchid Species? Adaptive Radiation by Intra‐specific Competition for Mnesic Pollinators. Biological Reviews, 2020, 95, 1630–1663. Baguette, M.; Bertrand, J. A. M.; Stevens, V. M.; Schatz, B. Why Are There so Many Bee‐orchid Species? Adaptive Radiation by Intra‐specific Competition for Mnesic Pollinators. Biological Reviews, 2020, 95, 1630–1663.


Adaptive radiations occur mostly in response to environmental variation through the evolution of key eco-morphological innovations that allow emerging species to occupy new ecological niches. However, rapid phenotypic evolution and the evolution of key novelties are likely to also occur when a couple or few species are engaged into narrow ecological interactions. To demonstrate coevolution is a difficult task; only elusive evidences confirm that coevolution is a driver of speciation and diversification. Here we propose that the adaptive radiation of the Mediterranean orchid genus Ophrys, which gave rise to ca. 350 species since the apparition of the genus is due to the particular co-evolutionary dynamics between these plants and their pollinators. We suggest that the pollination by sexual swindle used by Ophrys orchids is the main driver of this coevolution. Flowers of each Ophrys species mimic sexually receptive females of one particular insect species, mainly bees. Male bees are attracted by pseudo-pheromones emitted by Ophrys flowers that are similar to the sexual pheromones of their females. Males lured by the flower shape, color and hairiness attempt to copulate with the flower, which glues pollen on their bodies. Pollen is eventually transferred to the stigma of another flower of the same Ophrys species during similar copulation attempts. Three observations led us to propose the scenario of an asymmetric co-evolutionary relationship between Ophrys and their pollinators. Firstly, there is a strong intra-specific competition among Ophrys individuals for the attraction of their species-specific pollinators, which is due to the high learning and memorization abilities of bees that record the pheromone signatures of kin or of previously courted partner to avoid (further) copulation attempts. Mnemonic pollinators induce thus a strong selective pressure for variation in the pseudo-pheromones emitted by individual flowers, which will potentially generate shifts in pollinator species, and hence Ophrys speciation. These pollinator shifts are adaptive for new Ophrys species because they may benefit from a competitor-free space. Secondly, such shifts in pollinator species are due to the random crossing of peaks in the olfactory landscape of the pollinator guild that is syntopic to each particular Ophrys population. This selective process on individual, random variation in pseudo-pheromone bouquets is followed by directional selection on flower phenotypes that will reinforce the attraction of the new pollinator. Thirdly, pollinators use the pseudo-pheromones emitted by Ophrys to locate suitable habitats from a distance within complex landscapes. Pollinators stay fixed for a while in these habitats by the local diversity of pseudo-pheromones, which increases their probability of encounter with a receptive female and hence the reproduction probability of both sexes. Conversely, pollinators disperse out of small suitable habitats once they have memorized the local diversity of sexual pseudo-pheromone bouquet or if fecundated Ophrys flowers repel pollinators, which decreases the probability of geitonogamy (plant advantage) but limit pollinator mating with locally emergent insect females, thus limiting inbreeding and favoring gene flow (pollinator advantage). Finally, we propose several research avenues that emerged according to this scenario of adaptive radiation by assymetric coevolution between Ophrys species and their pollinators.


adaptive radiation; sympatric speciation; pollination by sexual swindle; plant insect coevolution; asymmetric coevolution; chemical ecology; Ophrys orchids; unifying species definition; pseudocopulation; key innovation


Biology and Life Sciences, Insect Science

Comments (0)

We encourage comments and feedback from a broad range of readers. See criteria for comments and our Diversity statement.

Leave a public comment
Send a private comment to the author(s)
* All users must log in before leaving a comment
Views 0
Downloads 0
Comments 0
Metrics 0

Notify me about updates to this article or when a peer-reviewed version is published.
We use cookies on our website to ensure you get the best experience.
Read more about our cookies here.