ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 6

Orchids Need Bees More Than Bees Need Them

Orchid pollinators are surprisingly promiscuous about the plants they like



Photograph by David Liittschwager

Biologists have long believed that orchid bees and orchids rely on each other in equal measure. The shimmering bees pollinate orchids in return for the flowers’ donation of perfumes, which male bees use to attract females. And so it was thought that the two organisms co-evolved. But a study led by Santiago Ramírez, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, that was published in Science in late 2011 revealed that the bees arose first, thus suggesting that the two are more independent than previously thought.

Ramírez’s work shows that although the orchids seem very adapted to the bees—having developed scents that bees like and mechanisms to deposit pollen onto the bees’ body—the insects are far less specialized. They collect scents from more than 700 species of plants, and they pollinate an array of them. “The bees and plants all interact,” Ramírez says, “and we know very little about how those networks of interactions evolve.”

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American MIND iPad

Give a Gift & Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now >>

X

Email this Article

X