An Enthusiasm for Orchids: Sex and Deception in Plant Evolution

Hardcover | November 10, 2005

byJohn Alcock

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The male thynnine wasp's extreme sexual enthusiasm is crucial to reproduction of hammer orchids in the wild. Hammer orchids have co-evolved to produce odors identical to those manufactured by female thynnine wasps. The male wasp's superb sensitivity to the scent of his female mate is the basisfor the hammer orchid's deceit--in effect, orchids exploit the male insect's highly adaptive sense of smell for their own propagation. While pollinating orchids is a waste of time, and thus a maladaptive activity for a wasp, his mistake comes about because he must react quickly whenever he senses apossible mate nearby. Alcock suggests that, "for insects, he who hesitates is lost, although perhaps it would be better to say that he who hesitates often loses a chance to pass on his genes." This book abounds with clever explanations for how these exceptionally complex flowers came to be shaped as they are. The reader can explore many aspects of orchid biology and history ranging from how some species avoid inbreeding, to the origins of orchids from an ancestor that belonged to theasparagus family. Examining each component of an orchid's flower, Alcock explains how the various parts work together to produce the plant's minute offspring. Each element of an orchid, as quirky as it may seem, is biologically significant, bearing the imprint of natural selection. Readers can sharein the delight that Darwin and all other orchid enthusiasts have felt in making sense of even the smallest of details of these most wonderful plants.

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The male thynnine wasp's extreme sexual enthusiasm is crucial to reproduction of hammer orchids in the wild. Hammer orchids have co-evolved to produce odors identical to those manufactured by female thynnine wasps. The male wasp's superb sensitivity to the scent of his female mate is the basisfor the hammer orchid's deceit--in effect, ...

Dr. Alcock's research deals with the evolution of diversity in insect mating systems. He studies selected species of desert insects in Arizona and Western Australia, in an attempt to document the variety of male mate-locating techniques in various bees, wasps, butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects. The goal of his research is to...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 6.18 × 8.58 × 0.98 inPublished:November 10, 2005Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019518274X

ISBN - 13:9780195182743

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1. Warty Hammer Orchids, Adaptations, and Darwin2. The Adaptations of Behaving Plants3. Adaptations and Maladaptations4. The History in Evolution5. Orchids, Species, and Names6. Orchids, Biodiversity, and Hotspots7. Orchids and Conservation8. Happy Hunting

Editorial Reviews

"The book is easy to read and has many beautiful illustrations. For an overview of the concepts of adaptation and maladaptation, a brief history of evolution in general, and a good look at the hotspots, biodiversity and conservation of orchids in southwestern Australia in particular, this isthe book to read."--Nature