The plants of the enigmatic genus Rafflesia are well known for their gigantic flowers and their floral features such as pungent floral scent and vivid dark color, which mimics the food/brood sites of carrion. However, information on the pollination biology of this plant group remains limited and mostly anecdotal. In the present paper, we studied the floral volatiles of R. cantleyi Solms-Laubach and their role in pollinator attraction. To achieve these aims, the floral scent was collected in situ in the field using a dynamic headspace method followed by chemical analysis via GC-MS. The olfactory preferences of pollinators to the identified chemical compounds, were tested singly and in blends, in flight tunnel bioassays and compared with responses to headspace floral extracts. In addition, flower-visiting calliphorid flies and the local carrion fly community were sampled and identified. Five species of calliphorid flies (subfamilies of Chrysomyinae and Calliphorinae), all females, were found on the flowers, whereas nine species were found in the traps that were baited with tainted meat in the surrounding habitat. However, only flower visitors of one blow fly species, Chrysomya chani Kurahashi, were observed to carry R. cantleyi pollen after visiting male flowers. The floral volatiles emitted by male flowers in full bloom were dominated by two sulphur-containing compounds, dimethyl disulfide (DMDS) and dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS). These were accompanied by other minor compounds such as benzenoids (4), monoterpenoids (4), trace amounts of aliphatic compounds (1), and sesquiterpenes (1). In flight-tunnel bioassays, a female-specific positive response of C. chani flies to individual DMDS, DMTS, and a blend of DMDS and DMTS was evident. Our findings suggest that R. cantleyi biochemically mimics carrion and that relative ratio of oligosulfides in the floral scent play a key role in sex-biased pollinator specialization, attracting only female C. chani carrion flies to the flowers.
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