Complementary fruiting phenologies facilitate sharing of one pollinator fig wasp by two fig trees

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Abstract

Aims

Most pollinator fig wasps are host plant specific, with each species only breeding in the figs of one fig tree species, but increasing numbers of species are known to be pollinated by more than one fig wasp, and in rare instances host switching can result in Ficus species sharing pollinators. In this study, we examined factors facilitating observed host switching at Xishuangbanna in Southwestern (SW) China, where Ficus squamosa is at the northern edge of its range and lacks the fig wasps that pollinate it elsewhere, and its figs are colonized by a Ceratosolen pollinator that routinely breeds in figs of F. heterostyla.

Methods

We recorded the habitat preferences of F. squamosa and F. heterostyla at Xishuangbanna, and compared characteristics such as fig size, location and colour at receptive phase. Furthermore, the vegetative and reproductive phenologies in the populations of F. squamosa and F. heterostyla were recorded weekly at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden for 1 year.

Important Findings

Ficus squamosa is a shrub found near fast-flowing rivers, F. heterostyla is a small tree of disturbed forest edges. Although preferring different habitats, they can be found growing close together. Both species have figs located at or near ground level, but they differ in size when pollinated. Fig production in F. squamosa was concentrated in the colder months. F. heterostyla produced more figs in summer but had some throughout the year. The absence of its normal pollinators, in combination with similarly located figs and partially complementary fruiting patterns appear to have facilitated colonization of F. squamosa by the routine pollinator of F. heterostyla. The figs probably also share similar attractant volatiles. This host switching suggests one mechanism whereby fig trees can acquire new pollinators and emphasizes the likely significance of edges of ranges in the genesis of novel fig tree–fig wasp relationships.

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