Low population genetic differentiation in the Orchidaceae: implications for the diversification of the family.
We investigated the relationship between habit, population size, floral traits and natural fruit set levels of 23 tropical orchid species of south-east Bangladesh. We showed that epiphytic orchids had lower fruit set levels than terrestrial species and that habit explained much of the variation in floral traits among the orchids. We compared our results with data from 76 other species occurring in the study area and hypothesize that a suite of floral and population characteristics present in tropical orchids combine in epiphytes to reduce their reproductive success. Characteristics which, in addition to their habit, are associated with low reproductive success are small population size, small inflorescences, non-sectile pollinia and self-incompatibility. Several of these characteristics were phylogenetically conserved and we predict that epiphytes might therefore generally have lower fruit set levels than recorded in terrestrial species. Nectar rewards are uncommon in tropical orchids and nectarless species have displays of larger flowers, which may represent an adaptation to increase pollinator attraction, although other rewards such as oils, waxes and pseudo pollen may replace nectar. We suggest that, like many temperate orchids, a high proportion of tropical orchids may lack floral rewards and be pollinated by deceit.