Pollination by sexual deception is one of the most remarkable of all pollination strategies. Sexual deception involves the mimicry of female insects leading to the attraction of sexually excited males, which transfer pollen during attempted copulation or courtship behavior. Ongoing discoveries in the orchids have shown that sexual deception appears to be a major evolutionary trend in the family. Given the highly specialised nature of sexual deception and the diversity of species involved, it raises the question of what are the ecological consequences of this strategy and how did it evolve?
In this seminar I will present data from an ongoing research program on Western Australian sexually deceptive orchids, which aims to address these questions. I will draw upon a diverse range of data to shed light on why there is such a high incidence of rarity in these orchids, what are the selective processes favouring the evolution of sexual deception, what are the chemical and visual adaptations involved and how does speciation occur? Finally, I conclude with a recent discovery from the Australian orchid flora that highlights the importance of both evolutionary and field natural history studies for understanding the origins of this fascinating group of plants.