How to cheat when you cannot lie? A novel mechanism of deceit pollination in Begonia gracilis

Reyna Castillo-Gamez, Helga Caballero, Karina Boege, Juan Enrique Fornoni, Cesar Domínguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Mimicry between rewarding and non-rewarding flowers within individuals has been accepted as a strategy favored by selection to deceive pollinators. It has been proposed that this mechanism relies on the exploitation of pollinator's sensory biases, but field evidence is still scarce. In this study, we describe the mechanism of deceit pollination in the monoecious herb Begonia gracilis, a species with exposed rewarding structures (pollen) and intersexual mimicry. Specifically, we test the role of mimicry and exploitation of sensory biases on the reproductive success of male (pollination visitation) and female flowers (probability of setting fruits). We show that pollinators' perception of the amount of reward provided by male flowers is influenced by the independent variation in the sizes of the androecium and the perianth. Large rewarding structures and small perianths were preferred by pollinators, suggesting a central role of the relative size of the rewarding structure on pollinators' foraging decisions. Hence, rewarding male flowers cheat pollinators by exploiting their sensory biases, a strategy followed by non-rewarding female flowers. We suggest that intersexual mimicry operates through the functional resemblance of male flowers' deceit strategy. Artificial manipulation of the flowers supports our findings in natural conditions. Overall, we propose that the continuous and independent variation in the size of the perianth and the reproductive organs among male and female flowers could itself be adaptive.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)773-782
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Feb 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The authors thank Germán Ávila, Luis Eguiarte, and Raúl Alcalá for their help during fieldwork and Ruben Pérez Ishiwara during processing of data. Earlier versions of the manuscript were improved by comments kindly provided by J. Ågren and M. Vallejo-Marín, D. Schemske and three anonymous reviewers. This project was funded by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México through the program PAPIIT 221310 to J.F. and PAPIIT 204594 to C.A.D. We certify that experiments performed comply with the current laws of Mexico. The authors declare that they do not have any conflict of interest with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which sponsored this research.


  • Begonia gracilis
  • Deceit pollination
  • Intersexual mimicry
  • Natural selection
  • Sensory biases


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