Obligate pollination mutualism in Breynia (Phyllanthaceae): further documentation of pollination mutualism involving Epicephala moths (Gracillariidae)

Am J Bot. 2004 Sep;91(9):1319-25. doi: 10.3732/ajb.91.9.1319.


This paper reports obligate seed-parasitic pollination mutualisms in Breynia vitis-idea and B. fruticosa (Phyllanthaceae). The genus Breynia is closely related to Glochidion and Gomphidium (a subgenus of Phyllanthus), in which pollination by species-specific, seed-parasitic Epicephala moths (Gracillariidae) have been previously reported. At night, female Epicephala moths carrying numerous pollen grains on their proboscises visited female flowers of B. vitis-idea, actively pollinated flowers, and each subsequently laid an egg. Examination of field-collected flowers indicated that pollinated flowers of B. vitis-idea and B. fruticosa almost invariably had Epicephala eggs, suggesting that these moths are the primary pollinators of the two species. Single Epicephala larvae consumed a fraction of seeds within developing fruit in B. vitis-idea and all seeds in B. fruticosa. However, some of the fruits were left untouched, and many of these had indication of moth oviposition, suggesting that egg/larval mortality of Epicephala moths is an important factor assuring seed set in these plants. The overall similarity of the specialized floral structure among Breynia species may indicate that this pollination system is fairly widespread within the genus.