Plants pollinated by specialists are often thought to receive exceptionally high-quality pollinator service, but in relatively low and unpredictable quantities. We examine and reject this hypothesis for an obligate mutualism between a subtropical New World fig (Ficus aurea) and its species-specific pollinator (Pegoscapus jimenezi). Fig wasps lay eggs within the flowers they pollinate; their offspring destroy a large proportion of fig's seeds. In a 6-year study of this interaction in Florida, U.S.A., we found that pollination intensity was in fact relatively high. Also contrary to expectations, reproductive success of both mutualists (as well as other wasps cohabiting the figs) was extremely variable and generally low, at three different scales of sampling: among figs from a single crop of one tree (thirty-four figs), among crops produced at different times by that tree (126 figs), and across trees over a 1-year period (379 figs). Although variable, fig contents were not completely unpredictable. For example, seed and wasp numbers increased with the number of flowers in a fig, and female and male flower numbers increased together. Little is yet known about the causes either of these relationships or of the massive fig-to-fig variation itself, although there is some evidence that they exist in other fig species as well. Further investigations of these patterns should shed new light on the ecology and evolution of this mutualism.
The foraging decisions of flower-visiting animals are contingent upon the need of an individual to meet both energetic and osmotic demands. Insects can alter their food preferences to prioritize one need over the other, depending on environmental conditions. In this study, preferences in nectar sugar concentrations (0, 12, 24 %) were tested in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta, in response to different levels of ambient humidity (20, 40, 60, and 80 % RH). Moths altered their foraging behavior when placed in low humidity environments by increasing the volume of nectar imbibed and by consuming more dilute nectar. When placed in high humidity environments the total volume imbibed decreased, because moths consumed less from dilute nectars (water and 12 % sucrose). Survivorship was higher with higher humidity. Daily foraging patterns changed with relative humidity (RH): moths maximized their nectar consumption earlier, at lower humidities. Although ambient humidity had an impact on foraging activity, activity levels and nectar preferences, total energy intake was not affected. These results show that foraging decisions made by M. sexta kept under different ambient RH levels allow individuals to meet their osmotic demands while maintaining a constant energy input. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
We develop an approach for studying population dynamics resulting from mutualism by employing functional responses based on density-dependent benefits and costs. These functional responses express how the population growth rate of a mutualist is modified by the density of its partner. We present several possible dependencies of gross benefits and costs, and hence net effects, to a mutualist as functions of the density of its partner. Net effects to mutualists are likely a monotonically saturating or unimodal function of the density of their partner. We show that fundamental differences in the growth, limitation, and dynamics of a population can occur when net effects to that population change linearly, unimodally, or in a saturating fashion. We use the mutualism between senita cactus and its pollinating seed-eating moth as an example to show the influence of different benefit and cost functional responses on population dynamics and stability of mutualisms. We investigated two mechanisms that may alter this mutualism's functional responses: distribution of eggs among flowers and fruit abortion. Differences in how benefits and costs vary with density can alter the stability of this mutualism. In particular, fruit abortion may allow for a stable equilibrium where none could otherwise exist.