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Yuccas and yucca moths

The genus Yucca (Agavaceae) is widely recognised for its pollination mutualism with moths of the genera Tegeticula and Parategeticula (both in Prodoxidae), in which pollination by female moths and provision of seeds for pollinator larvae are traded. This insect-plant association is a textbook example of coevolution.

I study the chemical ecology of the yucca/moth mutualism is collaboration with Prof. Olle Pellmyr at University of Idaho (USA) and Prof. Robert Raguso at Cornell University (USA). The current research is focused on three main topics:

  • Chemical characterisation of the floral scent in yuccas representing the three sections of spongy-fruited (Clistocarpa), fleshy-fruited (Sarcocarpa), and capsular-fruited (Chaenocarpa) species, and how the trait has evolved within the mutualism.
  • Electrophysiological and behavioural analyses ofTegeticula moths to identify which floral scent compounds these insects use to find their host plants, and to avoid non-hosts in areas where several yucca species have overlapping flowering phenologies.
  • The role of host odours in the evolution of cheating in this pollination mutualism.

During my postdoc I also conducted molecular genetic studies on several non-mutualistic yucca moths of the genus Prodoxus, which is the sister group of the pollinators, to study ecological and allopatric processes of divergence and speciation.

Joshua trees in Tikaboo Valley, Nevada, USA
Joshua trees in Tikaboo Valley, Nevada, USA. Photo: Glenn Svensson.
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Yucca moth
Female Tegeticula yuccasella pollinating its host Yucca glauca. Boulder, CO, USA Photo: Gabi Limbach

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