Diel pattern of floral scent emission matches the relative importance of diurnal and nocturnal pollinators in populations of Gymnadenia conopsea

Ann Bot. 2018 Mar 14;121(4):711-721. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcx203.


Background and aims: Floral scent is considered an integral component of pollination syndromes, and its composition and timing of emission are thus expected to match the main pollinator type and time of activity. While floral scent differences among plant species with different pollination systems can be striking, studies on intraspecific variation are sparse, which limits our understanding of the role of pollinators in driving scent divergence.

Methods: Here, we used dynamic headspace sampling to quantify floral scent emission and composition during the day and at night in the natural habitat of six Scandinavian populations of the fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea. We tested whether diel scent emission and composition match pollinator type by comparing four populations in southern Sweden, where nocturnal pollinators are more important for plant reproductive success than are diurnal pollinators, with two populations in central Norway, where the opposite is true. To determine to what extent scent patterns quantified in the field reflected plasticity, we also measured scent emission in a common growth chamber environment.

Key results: Both scent composition and emission rates differed markedly between day and night, but only the latter varied significantly among populations. The increase in scent emission rate at night was considerably stronger in the Swedish populations compared with the Norwegian populations. These patterns persisted when plants were transferred to a common environment, suggesting a genetic underpinning of the scent variation.

Conclusions: The results are consistent with a scenario where spatial variation in relative importance of nocturnal and diurnal pollinators has resulted in selection for different scent emission rhythms. Our study highlights the importance of adding a characterization of diel variation of scent emission rates to comparative studies of floral scent, which so far have often focused on scent composition only.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Flowers / physiology*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Odorants / analysis
  • Orchidaceae / physiology*
  • Pollination*
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries