A deceptive pollination system targeting drosophilids through olfactory mimicry of yeast

Johannes Stökl, Antonia Strutz, Amots Dafni, Ales Svatos, Jan Doubsky, Markus Knaden, Silke Sachse, Bill S. Hansson, Marcus C. Stensmyr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In deceptive pollination, insects are bamboozled into performing nonrewarded pollination. A prerequisite for the evolutionary stability in such systems is that the plants manage to generate a perfect sensory impression of a desirable object in the insect nervous system [1]. The study of these plants can provide important insights into sensory preference of their visiting insects. Here, we present the first description of a deceptive pollination system that specifically targets drosophilid flies. We show that the examined plant (Arum palaestinum) accomplishes its deception through olfactory mimicry of fermentation, a strategy that represents a novel pollination syndrome. The lily odor is composed of volatiles characteristic of yeast, and produces in Drosophila melanogaster an antennal detection pattern similar to that elicited by a range of fermentation products. By functional imaging, we show that the lily odors target a specific subset of odorant receptors (ORs), which include the most conserved OR genes in the drosophilid olfactome. Furthermore, seven of eight visiting drosophilid species show a congruent olfactory response pattern to the lily, in spite of comprising species pairs separated by ∼40 million years [2], showing that the lily targets a basal function of the fly nose, shared by species with similar ecological preference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1846-1852
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - 26 Oct 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the Max Planck Society and by the Linnaeus program Insect Chemical Ecology, Ethology and Evolution (ICE 3 ). We wish to thank R. Haddad for assisting with the chemometric analysis, and R. Benton as well as members of the Hansson laboratory for comments on the manuscript.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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