Higher temperatures make it difficult for fig tree pollinators

A female fig wasp (Tetrapus americanus), a pollinator of Ficus maxima, has just emerged from the fig she spawned and cleaned herself up, preparing for the long one-way trip to a flowering tree where she can lay her eggs. Credit: Christian Ziegler

Researchers from Uppsala University and elsewhere have studied the effect of higher temperatures on the lifespan of fig wasps pollination. The results show that wasps lived much shorter lives in high temperatures, making it difficult for them to travel long distances between the trees they pollinated.

Fig trees are very important components of tropical forests around the world, as they ensure the existence of food source For forest birds and mammals, even during periods when other plants are not fruiting. Fig trees produce fruit all year round, but only if the figs are first visited by a pollinated fig wasp. Each species of fig tree is pollinated by its own species of fig wasp. Fig wasps are only 2 to 3 millimeters long and live an average of two to three days, but they often fly 10 kilometers or more to move from a mature tree to a flowering tree.

Global warming is expected to increase temperatures around the world, including in tropics. In the Panama region the researchers focused on, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a temperature rise of one to four degrees by 2100.

The research group looked at what happens to Omar fig wasps If the temperature is too high. The researchers used experiments in which fig wasps were allowed to spend their entire lives at carefully controlled temperatures. All five pollinated fig wasp species studied lived shorter lives at higher temperatures. When the temperature rose to 36 degrees, the hornets lived only an average of two to ten hours.

In addition to a warmer future that shortens the life of wasps, clearing tropical forests increases the distance between fig trees, making pollination more difficult. It is possible that fig wasps are able to avoid higher temperatures by modifying their behaviour, such as flying at night when it is cooler. If fig wasps are no longer able to pollinate, fig trees will not be able to produce fruit. This could have severe consequences for all animals in the tropical forests dependent on figs for food.

During the study, ripe figs were collected from five different types of fig trees: Ficus utusifolia, Ficus citrifolia, Ficus popenoei, Ficus insipida, Ficus maxima. The figs were opened in the laboratory, and the wasps that grew up inside the figs were kept in climatic chambers of different temperatures. The number of surviving wasps is counted approximately every four hours. In total, the researchers tested more than 40,000 wasps from about 400 fig seeds.

The search was published in Ecology and Evolution.


Punishment imposes cooperation in mutuality between the fig wasp: the exception proves the rule


more information:
Lisette van Colfchoten et al., Rising temperatures threaten pollinators for fig trees – Keystone Resources for Tropical Forests, Ecology and Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1002 / ece3.9311

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Uppsala University


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