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How the mutualism is maintained

(Life; Embryophyta (plants); Angiospermae (flowering plants); Eudicotyledons; Order: Rosales; Family: Moraceae; Genus: Ficus)

Interaction of figs and fig wasps

Given the short life span of the adult pollinating fig wasps and the lack of synchrony of fig production, how then is the relationship maintained? Usually on emergence the female wasps have to leave the tree they bred on, because the figs in a particular crop are normally all at the same stage of development. Some Ficus species, however, have figs at different stages of development within the same crop and in these cases the female wasp has only to fly a short distance to locate a receptive fig. The cycling of the mutualism can, therefore, continue on the same tree. More commonly the cycling phenomenon relies on the presence of a suitably sized population of trees of a particular species in a given area, so that somewhere within the population there will be a tree with figs that are receptive for pollination. The lack of synchrony in fig crop production between trees is an essential trait to ensure this. If all the trees in a population produced figs at the same time, the fig wasp population would die out. Local extinctions of wasps do occur, when they are not able to locate a tree with figs in the receptive phase, and there will also be abortions of fig crops that pollinators have not managed to locate. Nevertheless, in the larger picture this is a very successful interaction, which is borne out by the high diversity of both fig trees and fig wasps.

Schematic depiction of the cycling of the mutualism between Ficus and fig wasps in a given population of fig trees. Each tree produces irregular fig crops (illustrated by a block) out of synchrony with other trees in the population. The female phase (black area) is receptive for pollination and oviposition, followed by seed and wasp larval development (white area), culminating in the male phase (grey area) where pollen laden females leave the fig and go in search of receptive figs on other trees. Figs in crops that are not pollinated abort, and local extinction of wasps will occur when there are no trees with receptive figs. Illustration by Simon van Noort (Iziko) (modified after Bronstein 1992 and Anstett et al. 1997).

Video of the interaction

Web authors Simon van Noort (Iziko South African Museum)

and Jean-Yves Rasplus (INRA, France)


Citation: van Noort, S. & Rasplus, JY. 2022. Figweb: figs and fig wasps of the world. URL: www.figweb.org(Accessed on <day-month-year>).

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