Pollination, which is a term for sexual reproduction process in plants, is a common and ubiquitous form of mutualism between flowers and their pollinators. According to Poole (2004), the use of a pollinator can be much more exact if the plant species can attract a pollinator, attach its pollen to it, and then get the pollinator to go to another individual of the same plant species. This is especially true for figs and their pollinators, fig wasps, which are interdependent on each other for propagation. Their relation is strictly specific – each fig species has its own associated species of pollinator wasp which co-evolved with it (Wiebes, 1979).
This type of mutualism can be seen in Kent Ridge Park, behind NUS campus. The most common fig found there is Ficus grossularioides, also known as the White-leaved fig. Other species such as Ficus fistulosa, Ficus fulva and Ficus microcarpa can also be found growing at the edges of the Park (Tan et al, 2002).
How this mutualistic relationship works: The figs, Ficus spp., offer protection for the safe development of the wasp larvae after fig wasps lay their eggs inside the fruit. In return, the wasps pollinate the figs (Kelly, 2010). In the figs, the wasps mate after hatching and the males die while the females squeeze out of the fig to lay their eggs, and in the process pick up pollen (Seah, 2004). The fig ripens once the female fig wasps have left the fig, changing colour and smell which becomes attractive to seed or fruit-eating birds, bats, and monkeys (Noort, 2009). Female fig wasps deposit the pollen they carry when they enter other figs to lay their eggs, thus pollinating the figs.
However, if a wasp lays its eggs but fails to pollinate the fig, the trees will drop those figs to the ground, killing the baby wasps inside.
A learning point to take away from nature: If you can’t get your end of the deal, get even.
“Mutualism” by Robert W. Poole. Nearctica, 2004. URL: http://www.nearctica.com/ecology/pops/mutual.htm#aphid (accessed 11 April 2010)
Wiebes, J. T., 1979. Co-Evolution of Figs and their Insect Pollinators. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol 10: 1-12
“The History and Biology of Kent Ridge Park” by H.T.W. Tan, T. Morgany and Tan Kai-Xin. Robocat, 2003. URL: http://zeta.robotcat.org/wh/KRP-history-biology.pdf (accessed 11 April 2010)
“Figs and Fig Wasps” by Kelly. Biology-blog, 2010. URL: http://www.biology-blog.com/blogs/permalinks/1-2010/figs-and-fig-wasps.html (accessed 12 April 2010)
“Introduction to Plant Life on Kent Ridge” by Brandon Seah. Habitatnews, 2004. URL: http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/heritage/pasirpanjang/articles/kentridgeplants-brandonseah.pdf (accessed 12 April 2010)
“How Fig Trees are Pollinated” by Simon van Noort. Figweb, 2009. URL: http://www.figweb.org/Interaction/How_do_fig_wasps_pollinate/index.htm (accessed 12 April 2010)