Beetle pollination of the fruit-scented cones of the South African cycad Stangeria eriopus

Am J Bot. 2009 Sep;96(9):1722-30. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800377. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


There has been considerable uncertainty about the importance of wind vs. insects in cycad pollination, but recent studies in several cycad genera have indicated that these are pollinated primarily, if not exclusively, by insects. Stangeria represents an isolated southern African cycad lineage previously thought to be wind-pollinated. Unlike in most other cycads, there is no evidence of cone thermogenesis in Stangeria. We found that the scent of both male and female Stangeria cones mimics that of fermented fruit, the main volatiles being esters of acetic acid, ketones, and aldehydes. We found a large variety of insect visitors on the cones, the most common ones being sap and rove beetles (Coleoptera: Nitidulidae, Staphylinidae) and fruit flies (Diptera: Drosophilidae). Of these, only sap beetles (Nitidulidae) were able to effect pollination under experimental conditions. Because sap beetles are also pollinators of Cycas and members of several ancient angiosperm families, their role in the pollination of Stangeria adds interesting details to the role this group of insects has played in the history of plant-pollinator interactions.