Friday, 13 April 2018

Climate change threatens rare British orchid that tricks bees into mating

Researchers find that warmer temperatures are upsetting the seasonal relationship between the early spider orchid and pollinating bees

Thu 5 Apr 2018 12.37 BSTLast modified on Thu 5 Apr 2018 22.00 BST

It is one of the most cunning and elaborate reproductive deceits: the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) wafts a floral bouquet into the air that mimics the irresistible scent of a virgin female solitary mining bee, tricking gullible male bees into attempting intercourse with several flowers, thereby ensuring the plant’s pollination.

But the sexual success of this rare and declining orchid in Britain is imperilled by climate change, researchers have found.

The orchid’s ruse only works if a female mining bee, Andrena nigroaenea, has not emerged from hibernation, because as soon as this happens, the orchid cannot compete with the alluring scent of the real thing – and the plant is ignored by the male bees.

While warmer springs cause the early spider orchid to flower earlier in May, climate warming is also causing female bees to emerge from hibernation even earlier – confounding the orchid’s attempts to dupe the male bees.

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