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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences

Department of Plant Systematics: Angiosperm Working Group - Prof. Dr. Sigrid Liede-Schumann

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Steiner, KE; Kaiser, R; Dötterl, S: Strong phylogenetic effects on floral scent variation of oil-secreting orchids in South Africa, American Journal of Botany, 98, 1663-1679 (2011) [Link]
Premise of the study: Evolution involves the interplay between natural selection and phylogenetic constraint. This is particularly evident among the flowering plants where form and diversity of flowers attest to the importance of both pollinator-mediated selection and phylogenetic constraint. Although this has been studied mostly using visible floral characters, invisible volatile chemicals emitted by the flowers should be subject to these same evolutionary forces. Unfortunately, most analyses of floral volatiles have over-emphasized the importance of natural selection and underplayed phylogenetic constraint without quantifying their respective roles in the evolution and composition of floral scents. Methods: We used multivariate analyses to test the relative importance of pollinators vs. phylogeny in determining the composition of fl oral scents among oil-secreting orchids in southern Africa. Floral scents of 42 oil-secreting taxa/ecotypes distributed among 12 subclades in the tribe Diseae were sampled using headspace adsorption and gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy. Key results: We identified 257 scent compounds distributed over nine different compound classes, with the majority of scents dominated by aliphatic or benzenoid compounds. The only significant predictor of floral scent among these orchids above the species level was phylogeny. Nevertheless, in two of the clades there were differences in scent profiles at the species and ecotype level that corresponded to different pollinators and were thus suggestive of pollinator-mediated selection. Conclusions: Scent variation was greater than expected and phylogeny was more important than pollinator-mediated selection in predicting the composition of floral scents of oil-secreting orchids, despite the specialized nature of the pollinator reward system.
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