Several groups within tribe Phyllantheae (Phyllanthaceae) formed, independently, an (obligate) pollination mutualism with Epicephala moths, which originally had been parasitic. In this pollination system, female moths actively collect pollen from staminate flowers and deposit it on the stigma of pistillate flowers, after which they place at least one egg in or against the ovary. The high pollination rate makes the system beneficial for the plants, whereas the larvae are provided with food (part of the developing seeds) and some protection against predation. Qualitative comparisons are made between non-moth-pollinated lineages, used as outgroups and various, independently moth-pollinated Phyllantheae clades, used as ingroups, thereby looking for parallel developments. The flowers of both sexes of various groups display similar, convergent morphological adaptations to the pollination system, likely to secure the obligate relationship and to improve efficiency. Sepals in both sexes, free or partly to highly connate, are commonly upright and form a narrow tube. The staminate flowers often have united, vertical stamens with the anthers along the androphore or on top of the androphore. Pistillate flowers generally reduce the stigmatic surface, either by making the stigmas shorter or by uniting them into a cone with a small opening at the top for pollen deposition. Less obvious is the reduction of the stigmatic papillae; these are often present in nonmoth-pollinated taxa, but absent in the moth-pollinated species. The most diverging, parallel adaptations to moth pollination are currently found in the Palaeotropics, whereas in the Neotropics, some groups continue to also be pollinated by other insect groups and are morphologically less changed.

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Staff publications

van Welzen, P. C., Winkel, E., & Bouman, R. (2023). Parallel developments in floral adaptations to obligate moth pollination mutualism in tribe Phyllantheae (Phyllanthaceae). PhytoKeys, 225, 165–198. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.225.99506