Ecology and Evolution | 2019
Signal and reward in wild fleshy fruits: Does fruit scent predict nutrient content?
Abstract Plant species with fleshy fruits offer animals rewards such as sugar, protein, and fat, to feed on their fruits and disperse their seeds. They have also evolved visual and olfactory signals indicating their presence and ripeness. In some systems, fruit color serves as a reliable visual signal of nutrient content. Yet even though many volatile chemicals used as olfactory signals derive from nutrients animals seek, it is still unknown whether fruit scent encodes information regarding nutrient content in wild fruits. We examine the relationship between olfactory signals and nutrient rewards in 28 fruiting plant species in Madagascar. We measured the relative amounts of four chemical classes in fruit scent using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, as well as the relative amounts of sugar and protein in fruit pulp. We found that protein levels are not associated with elevated amounts of chemically related volatile compounds in fruit scent. In contrast, sugar content is strongly associated with the chemical composition of fruit scent. To our knowledge, this is the first research to explore the connection between fruit chemical signals and nutrient rewards. Our results imply that in the case of sugar, fruit scent is predictive of nutrient content and hence an honest signal.