Chemical ecology of Yucca-Yucca moth interactions

Yucca

Observations

  1. Yucca plants are actively pollinated by female Yucca moths (Tegeticula spp.: above B) in one of the textbook examples of obligate mutualism in nature. Developing larvae eat some but not all fertilized ovules; no seeds are produced in the moths’ absence.
  2. Related moths in the Prodoxidae show the full spectrum of interactions with Yucca plants, from mutualistic pollinators and parasitic “cheaters” (Parategeticula and Tegeticula) to commensalistic stem boring species (Prodoxus).
  3. Male Tegeticula and Prodoxus moths alike seek mates in Yucca flowers (D), and are attracted to sticky traps baited with these flowers at night (below, second from right).
  4. Yucca floral scent is chemically unusual, with long chain alkanes and alkenes and a group of oxygenated homoterpenoids, some of which are new to Science.

Yucca

Questions:

  1. Is female yucca moth pollination behavior mediated by Yucca floral scent?
  2. Do male yucca moths respond to Yucca floral odors as surrogate pheromones?
  3. What are the chemical structures and behavioral functions of the scent compounds that elicit the most sensitive antennal responses?
  4. Does scent function as an isolating mechanism among sympatric Yuccas?

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