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Fruit Set, Nectar Reward, and Rarity in the Orchidaceae

Mary Ruth M. Neiland and Christopher C. Wilcock
American Journal of Botany
Vol. 85, No. 12 (Dec., 1998), pp. 1657-1671
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2446499
Page Count: 15
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Fruit Set, Nectar Reward, and Rarity in the Orchidaceae
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Abstract

A review of comparative levels of reproductive success among nectariferous and nectarless orchids worldwide was compiled from a comprehensive survey of fruit set from 117 orchid species in the literature and from our own field studies. It confirms the hypothesis that nectariferous orchids are more successful in setting fruit than are nectarless species. Overall fruit set figures for nectarless and nectariferous orchids were 19.5 and 49.3% for North America, 27.7 and 63 1% for Europe, 41.4 and 74 4% for the temperate southern hemisphere, and 11 5 and 24.9% for the tropics, demonstrating that the dichotomy is consistent across all geographical areas. On average, the provision of nectar doubles the probability of fruit set in both temperate and tropical areas, but tropical orchids are remarkable in that all (whether nectarless or nectariferous, or terrestrial or epiphytic) display low fruit productivity (<50%). Fruiting failure in the tropics may be balanced by higher productivity per capsule, since tropical orchid fruits contain on average 150 times more seeds than temperate ones Hybridization occurs more frequently among nectarless orchids in Britain and Europe than among nectariferous ones, and there is a significant positive association between orchid rarity and lack of nectar reward in the British Isles. Sexual reproduction in the Orchidaceae is predominantly pollinator dependent, but this can sometimes be successfully circumvented by asexual seed production (agamospermy) or, more frequently, by automatic self-pollination (autogamy). The proportion of highly successful nectarless orchids from all geographic areas is very low and comparable with that of orchids offering rewards other than nectar (∼ 14% of species in each case) emphasizing that high reproductive success is only associated with nectar reward (53% of species). It is suggested that the evolution of nectar production within the family has been the most frequent means of escaping the reproductive limitations of low pollinator visitation frequencies.

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