The concept of flower-feeding thrips as pollinating insects in temperate regions is rarely considered as they are more frequently regarded to be destructive florivores feeding on pollen and surrounding plant tissue. Combining laboratory and field-based studies we examined interactions between Sambucus nigra (elderflower) and Thrips major within their native range to ascertain the role of thrips in the pollination of this species and to determine if floral chemicals mediated flower visits. If thrips provide a pollination service to S. nigra, then this will likely manifest in traits that attract the pollinating taxa at temporally critical points in floral development. T. major were highly abundant in inflorescences of S. nigra, entering flowers when stigmas were pollen-receptive and anthers were immature. When thrips were excluded from the inflorescences, fruit-set failed. Linalool was the major component of the inflorescence headspace with peak abundance coinciding with the highest number of adult thrips visiting flowers. Thrips were absent in buds and their numbers declined again in senescing flowers inversely correlating with the concentration of cyanogenic glycosides recorded in the floral tissue. Our data show that S. nigra floral chemistry mediates the behaviour of pollen-feeding thrips by attracting adults in high numbers to the flowers at pre-anthesis stage, while producing deterrent compounds prior to fruit development. Taking an integrative approach to studying thrips behaviour and floral biology we provide a new insight into the previously ambiguously defined pollination strategies of S. nigra and provide evidence suggesting that the relationship between T. major and S. nigra is mutualistic.
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