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An Enthusiasm for Orchids: Sex and Deception in Plant Evolution

Overview

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 basis for 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,...

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Overview

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 basis for 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 a possible 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 the asparagus 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 share in 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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...very informative, lucidly and entertainingly written, and a pleasure to read. It is easily one of best books on orchids I have read." —Quarterly Review of Biology

"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 is the book to read."—Nature

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195182743
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/24/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.25 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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 test hypotheses on the adaptive value of the different ways in which males find mating partners.

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Table of Contents

1. Warty Hammer Orchids, Adaptations, and Darwin
2. The Adaptations of Behaving Plants
3. Adaptations and Maladaptations
4. The History in Evolution
5. Orchids, Species, and Names
6. Orchids, Biodiversity, and Hotspots
7. Orchids and Conservation
8. Happy Hunting

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    What an adventure!

    Alcock, an animal behavior biologist at Arizona State University, writes a wonderful accessible and entertaining account of orchids and his and his wife's search for them. He describes the adventure of the search, the beauty and biology of the orchids, and some of his process as a biologist leading the reader into an enthusiasm (full of spirit). Excellent read for anyone interested in orchids, natural history, and adventure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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