Department of Neurobiology and Behavior - Cornell University
"From Perfumes to Private Channels: A Full Spectrum of Volatile-mediated Pollination by Moths"
After beetles, moths are the most biodiverse insect lineage on earth, and many families of moths rely on flowers for nectar or as brood sites for their larvae. Although bees garner most of the public’s attention about pollination, flower visiting moths can represent powerful selective forces shaping floral shape, color and chemistry. Most continents have guilds of night-blooming, tubular or funnel shaped flowers that emit powerful, sweet fragrances to attract hawkmoths (family Sphingidae) as pollinators.
These plants (gingers, Easter lilies, jasmines, jonquils, gardenias, four-o’clocks, evening primroses, tuberoses, petunias, Darwin’s orchids, Daturas) are important to the horticultural and perfume industries, suggesting that the sensory biases of moths align with those of humans(!). The chemical compositions of these perfumes are conventional, consisting of aromatic alcohols and esters, terpene alcohols and nitrogenous volatiles (indole, aldoximes). Rather than being unique to night-bloomers, these compounds are commonly produced by other kinds of flowers, but at much more modest emission rates. At the opposite extreme are yuccas, which depend on single species of obligate moth pollinators (family Prodoxidae), which breed and lays their eggs within Yucca flowers, deriving reproductive benefits rather than a nectar meal. The scents of yuccas are a unique combination of long-chain waxy hydrocarbons and oxygenated C11 compounds derived from the sesquiterpene nerolidol.
My talk will highlight what it known about the biosynthesis of these compounds and their biological functions in mediated complex plant-pollinator interactions.
Refreshments served at 3:45 pm in the MBB Atrium.
Host: Robert Thornburg