Pollination biology in the dioecious orchid Catasetum uncatum: How does floral scent influence the behaviour of pollinators?

Phytochemistry. 2015 Aug;116:149-161. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2015.02.027. Epub 2015 Mar 11.


Catasetum is a neotropical orchid genus that comprises about 160 dioecious species with a remarkable sexual dimorphism in floral morphology. Flowers of Catasetum produce perfumes as rewards, which are collected only by male euglossine bees. Currently, floral scents are known to be involved in the selective attraction of specific euglossine species. However, sexual dimorphism in floral scent and its eventual role in the pollination of Catasetum species have never been investigated. Here, we have investigated the pollination of Catasetum uncatum and asked: (1) Is floral scent a sexual dimorphic trait? (2) Does pollinarium removal/deposition affect scent emission? (3) Does sexual dimorphism in floral scent and changed scent emission have implications with regard to the behaviour of the pollinators? The frequency and behaviour of floral visitors were observed in non-manipulated flowers (both flower sexes) and in manipulated flowers (pistillate only) in which pollinaria were deposited. Scents of staminate and pistillate flowers (both manipulated and non-manipulated) were collected by using dynamic headspace methods and analysed chemically. Electrophysiological analyses were performed to detect compounds triggering antennal depolarisation in the euglossine species. C. uncatum is pollinated mainly by males of Euglossa nanomelanotricha. Pollinators were more frequent in pistillate than in staminate inflorescences. Bees approaching staminate flowers frequently flew away without visiting them, a behavioural pattern not observed in pistillate flowers. In the chemical analyses, we recorded 99 compounds, 31 of which triggered antennal depolarisation in pollinators. Multivariate analyses with the electrophysiological-active compounds did not detect differences between the scent composition of staminate and pistillate flowers. Pollinarium removal or deposition resulted in diminished scent emission within 24h in staminate and pistillate flowers, respectively. Surprisingly, bees discriminated pollinated from non-pollinated pistillate flowers as early as 2h after pollination. The rapid loss in the attractiveness of flowers following pollinarium removal/deposition can be interpreted as a strategy to direct pollinators to non-pollinated flowers. We have found no evidence that euglossine males discriminate staminate from pistillate flowers by means of floral scent. Instead, we speculate that bees use visual cues, such as sex dimorphic traits, to discriminate flowers of different sexes. Together, our results provide interesting insights into the evolution of floral signals in gender-dimorphic species and into its significance in plant reproductive biology.

Keywords: Catasetum; Dioecy; Electrophysiological analyses; Euglossini; Perfume-producing orchids; Pollination; Volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees*
  • Brazil
  • Flowers / chemistry
  • Male
  • Molecular Structure
  • Orchidaceae / chemistry*
  • Perfume / analysis
  • Pollination / physiology*
  • Terpenes / chemistry*
  • Terpenes / isolation & purification*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / chemistry


  • Perfume
  • Terpenes
  • Volatile Organic Compounds