Journal: Biology Letters
Volume: 11
Pages: 20140993


Most gymnosperms are wind-pollinated, but some are insect-pollinated, and in Ephedra (Gnetales), both wind pollination and insect pollination occur. Little is, however, known about mechanisms and evolution of pollination syndromes in gymnosperms. Based on four seasons of field studies, we show an unexpected correlation between pollination and the phases of the moon in one of our studied species, Ephedra foeminea. It is pollinated by dipterans and lepidopterans, most of them nocturnal, and its pollination coincides with the full moon of July. This may be adaptive in two ways. Many nocturnal insects navigate using the moon. Further, the spectacular reflection of the full-moonlight in the pollination drops is the only apparent means of nocturnal attraction of insects in these plants. In the sympatric but wind-pollinated Ephedra distachya, pollination is not correlated to the full moon but occurs at approximately the same dates every year. The lunar correlation has probably been lost in most species of Ephedra subsequent an evolutionary shift to wind pollination in the clade. When the services of insects are no longer needed for successful pollination, the adaptive value of correlating pollination with the full moon is lost, and conceivably also the trait.