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Flies and flowers: taxonomic diversity of anthophiles and pollinators

  • B.M.H. Larson (a1), P.G. Kevan (a2) and D.W. Inouye (a3)

The Diptera are the second most important order among flower-visiting (anthophilous) and flower-pollinating insects worldwide. Their taxonomic diversity ranges from Nematocera to Brachycera, including most families within the suborders. Especially important are Syrphidae, Bombyliidae, and Muscoidea. Other families, especially of small flies, are less appreciated and often overlooked for their associations with flowers. We have compiled records of their flower visitations to show that they may be more prevalent than usually thought. Our knowledge of anthophilous Diptera needs to be enhanced by future research concerning (i) the significance of nocturnal Nematocera and acalypterate muscoids as pollinators, (ii) the extent to which the relatively ineffective pollen-carrying ability of some taxa can be compensated by the abundance of individuals, and (iii) the role of Diptera as pollinators of the first flowering plants (Angiospermae) by using phylogenetic and palaeontological evidence. Specializations in floral relationships involve the morphology of Diptera, especially of their mouthparts, nutritional requirements, and behaviour, as well as concomitant floral attributes. The South African flora has the most highly specialized relations with dipterous pollinators, but in arctic and alpine generalist fly–flower relations are important in pollination and fly nutrition.


Les diptères occupent le second rang au monde parmi les ordres d’insectes qui visitent les fleurs (anthophiles) et qui assurent la pollinisation. Leur diversité taxonomique va des nématocères aux brachycères et inclut presque toutes les familles de ces sous-ordres, en particulier les Syrphidae, les Bombyliidae et les Muscoidea qui occupent une place prépondérante. Les associations des autres familles avec les fleurs, particulièrement les familles de mouches de petite taille, passent souvent inaperçues. Nous avons compilé des données sur leurs visites aux fleurs dans le but de démontrer qu’elles sont probablement plus importantes qu’on ne le croit. Nos connaissances des diptères anthophiles doivent être complétées par d’autres recherches (i) pour déterminer l’importance des nématocères nocturnes et des muscoïdes acalyptères comme pollinisateurs, (ii) pour évaluer jusqu’à quel point l’inefficacité relative de certains taxons comme transporteurs de pollen peut être compensée par l’abondance des individus et (iii) pour juger du rôle des diptères comme pollinisateurs des premières plantes à fleurs (Angiospermae) en utilisant des données phylogénétiques et paléontologiques. Les spécialisations de relations fleurs–insectes sont basées sur des particularités morphologiques des diptères, surtout de leurs pièces buccales, sur leurs besoins nutritifs et sur leur comportement, en même temps que sur les attributs correspondants des fleurs. La flore de l’Afrique du Sud est celle qui a les relations les plus spécialisées avec les diptères pollinisateurs. Cependant, dans les régions arctiques et alpines, des relations apparemment non spécialisées entre les mouches et les fleurs sont importantes pour la pollinisation des fleurs et l’alimentation des mouches.

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The Canadian Entomologist
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