Multidirectional evolution of floral chemistry in deceptive Dactylorhiza orchids

Floral chemistry is hypothesized to be the product of natural selection, but researchers have just begun to consider the micro-evolution of these traits.

The deception strategies of orchids remain poorly understood, especially in regard to the chemical compounds emitted from their flowers and their interaction with various taxonomic groups of pollinators. Ada Wróblewska and colleagues investigated the phylogenetic relationships and compared the variation of floral chemical compounds between food-deceptive Dactylorhiza taxa (D. incarnata var. incarnata and D. incarnata var. ochroleuca, D. fuchsii and D. majalis) from populations in north-eastern Poland. They propose a model of the evolution of deception based on floral chemical signals in this genus.

Dactylorhiza orchid

While the genetic data clearly supported the distinct lineages of D. incarnata, D. fuchsii and D. majalis, the patterns of emission of their flower chemical compounds were more complex within the series of shared compounds (alkanes and aldehydes) and taxon-specific compounds (benzenoids and esters). Their floral bouquet can influence the sexual, social and feeding behaviour of pollinators in different ways. We observed that the floral chemical compounds attracted both shared and species-specific pollinators to Dactylorhiza, confirming the multidirectional character of floral chemical signals in these food-deceptive taxa. Reduction of species-specific pollination levels in Dactylorhiza orchid taxa may promote hybridization between them.

Further reading

Wróblewska, A., Szczepaniak, L., Bajguz, A., Jędrzejczyk, I., Tałałaj, I., Ostrowiecka, B., … Mirski, P. (2019). Deceptive strategy in Dactylorhiza orchids: multidirectional evolution of floral chemistry. Annals of Botany, 123(6), 1005–1016. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcz003