Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Timing is everything

A euglossine bee gathers scent compounds inside an orchid. Photo by Alex Popovkin, Russian in Brazil.

This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, the big science post comes from … me. It’s about a big new study of orchids and the perfume-collecting euglossine bees that pollinate them.

The study by a team out of Harvard—lead-authored by Santiago R. Ramírez—tests three predictions arising from the proposition that bees and orchids are equally dependent on the scent-collection mutualism. First, as I noted above, a mutually-dependent relationship should mean that bee and orchid species often form in tandem, and that the euglossine bees and the orchids have spent most of their histories together. Second, the euglossines should rely mainly on scents from orchids, not from other sources. Finally, euglossines and orchids should show similar degrees of dependency. An orchid that relies on only one bee species should use a bee species that only collects scent from that one orchid; bees that collect scent from multiple orchids should use orchids that are, themselves, involved with multiple bee species.

To find out whether or not these predictions are borne out, go read the whole post. ◼