PhD Studentship opportunity! Sexually deceptive orchid pollination strategies: is one true love or broad sex appeal best?

**Applications for this project have now closed**

Sexually deceptive orchids achieve pollination by mimicking the pheromones and appearance of female insects. The orchids entice males to try to mate with the flowers and pollen is spread through repeated deception among flowers. In this way orchids avoid the costs of producing nectar, but mimicking pheromones and colour is presumably expensive. Sexually deceptive orchid species vary in the number and diversity of pollinator species they attract, ability to self‐pollinate, and if they share pollinators with other species.

It is not known how these different strategies affect pollination success, plant abundance and the population resilience of these often‐vulnerable species. Is it better to mimic one pollinator or several? Is it too expensive to mimic several species perfectly, but imperfect mimicry is enough? And when a pollinator becomes locally extinct, releasing a species from a specific selection pressure, are deceptive traits no longer maintained?

A PhD studentship to research these questions is available at The Open University through the CENTA programme to work with me (Dr Julia Cooke), Dr. Claire Turner and Prof. David Gowing.  In this project, a student will:

  • Work on sexual deception, a pollination strategy unique to orchids, arguably the most charismatic of flowers
  • Study in Britain and France, where the Ophrys genus provides a unique opportunity to assess pollination strategies
  • Use the latest techniques to analyse pheromones and colour and answer questions about pollination strategies and the evolution of trickery

More information about the project and how to apply can be found here.

Other research projects in the Department of Earth, Environment and Ecosystems are here.

Orchids

Ophrys apifera (left) is pollinated in Europe by a single bee species, which is absent in Britain resulting in solely self‐pollination. In contrast, Ophrys insectifera does not self‐pollinate but attracts three pollinators from two genera in two insect orders.

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