Orchid on remote island pollinated by WASPS – because there are no bees

A species of orchid on a remote island is being pollinated by wasps – because there are no bees, reveals new research.

Found on the island of Kozu, off Japan, the Goodyera Henryi orchid is known to have grown on the mainland as it can only be pollinated by a specific bumblebee.

Conversely, its close relative, the Goodyera Simlis, can only be pollinated by wasps. Because the bumblebee that the Goodyera Henry relies on for pollination does not exist on the remote island, it is now being pollinated by an island wasp instead.

Researchers at Kobe University in Japan say their findings, published in the journal New Phytologist, showcases how plants in ecological relationships adapt to changing circumstances.

Kobe University Professor Suetsugu Kenji said: “The most exciting aspect of this result is probably the implication for our understanding of how plants can adapt and evolve in response to changing ecological conditions, particularly in the context of declining pollinator populations.”

The research team speculate that, when Goodyera Henryi first arrived on the island, it must have been visited by a wasp by chance. Bumblebee species are on a global decline.

Prof Kenji said: “Even if bumblebee-dependent plants successfully engage substitute pollinators amidst the global decline of long-tongued bumblebees, the maintenance of plants’ species boundaries could be compromised due to the sharing of pollinators via hybrid formation.”

However, the researchers found that for Goodyera Henryi, this came at the cost of hybridisation with Goodyera Similis, losing some of its species identity.

Prof Kenji added: “All specimens initially categorised as Goodyera henryi on Kozu Island are hybrids, leading to the absence of the pure species on the island.”

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