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Mutual pollination system involving Boronia (Rutaceae) and moths of the Heliozelidae

Start date:
02 Jan 2015
End date:
31 Dec 2018
Boronia work Marco Duretto Margaret Heslwood Moth work Axel Kallies (WEHI & Dept. Zoology, The University Of Melbourne) Douglas Hilton (WEHI & Dept. Zoology, The University Of Melbourne) Dr Marianne Horak (CSIRO) Ms Liz Milla (Dept. Zoology, The University Of Melbourne Mr Andy Young (Field worker)
Project sponsors:
The Hermon Slade Foundation
Marco Duretto

Project aims

  • Produce a robust phylogeny for Boronia series Boronia to determine the relationships of the B. megastigma group from SW WA.
  • Compare this phylogeny with phylogenies of the obligate and cheater moths of the Heliozelidae.
  • Characterize the morphology of the specialised flowers of B. megastigma group and match this with the morphology and ecology of the pollinator and “cheater” heliozelid moths.

Project Summary

Obligate pollination mutualisms are rare, highly interdependent relationships between co-evolved insects and plants, where the insect is required for pollination and plant survival, and the plant is the sole larval food source, hence essential for insect survival. A new genus of moth in the Heliozelidae appear to act as the obligate pollinator of Boronia megastigma (Brown Boronia) and its close relatives. The Boronia hosts have other Heliozelidae associated with them that appear to play no role in pollination but rather exploit or "cheat" the system. The Boronia-Heliozelidae relationship is significant because Boronia species outside of the megastigma group appear to have generalist heliozelid pollinators, facilitating the exploration of the emergence of an obligate system. 

Research Update

The phylogeny of Boronia is being finalized and collections of all taxa is progressing well, especially in SW Western Australia. Liz Milla has commenced her PhD on the moths.