The findings have implications in conservation biology, particularly because of the alarming decline over the past 15 years of bee pollinators worldwide.

“Many plant species are extremely dependent on their pollinators,” said Ramirez, who began this work while he was a Ph.D. student in the lab of Naomi Pierce, Harvard University professor of biology. “If you lose one species of bee, you could lose three to four species of orchids. Many of these orchids don’t produce any other type of reward, such as nectar, that would attract other species of bee pollinators.”

“Our study is consistent with the emerging theory that insect sensory biases have played a major role in driving reproductive adaptations in flowering plants,” said Ramirez. “It highlights the ecological and evolutionary inter-dependence of flowering plants and their specialized pollinators, suggesting that new threats to insect pollinators may have profound effects on the ecosystems they inhabit.”