13 October 2009
Video of yucca pollination
With permission from my doctoral advisor, Olle Pellmyr, I've just uploaded a unique video to Vimeo: a yucca moth laying eggs in, then pollinating, a yucca flower. I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier -- it's great footage, and deserves to be seen more widely.
A female yucca moth mates, then collects pollen from a yucca flower in specialized mouthparts. She carries it to another flower where, as shown in the video, she drills into the floral pistil with her ovipositor and lays eggs inside, then climbs to the tip of the pistil and applies pollen to fertilize the flower. When the flower develops into a fruit, the eggs hatch and the caterpillars eat some of the seeds inside.
Yuccas and yucca moths are completely dependent on each other [PDF] -- nothing else pollinates yuccas, and the moths have no other source of food (they don't eat as adults). Recently, the Pellmyr lab has shown that this interaction may be leading to speciation in one yucca species, the Joshua tree -- Joshua trees pollinated by two different species of yucca moths have differently-shaped flowers [PDF], but these two tree types may not be totally genetically isolated [PDF]. I've written about this work before -- for more information about the interaction, check out Olle's publication page.
Godsoe, W., Yoder, J., Smith, C., & Pellmyr, O. (2008). Coevolution and Divergence in the Joshua Tree/Yucca Moth Mutualism. The American Naturalist, 171 (6), 816-23 DOI: 10.1086/587757
Pellmyr, O. (2003). Yuccas, yucca moths, and coevolution: A review. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 90 (1) DOI: 10.2307/3298524
Smith, C., Godsoe, W., Tank, S., Yoder, J., & Pellmyr, O. (2008). Distinguishing coevolution from covicariance in an obligate pollination mutualism: Asynchronous divergence in Joshua tree and its pollinators. Evolution, 62 (10), 2676-87 DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00500.x