Orchids of the genus Ophrys (Orchidaceae) are pollinated by male bees and wasps through sexual deception. The Ophrys sphegodes group encompasses several closely related species that differ slightly in floral morphology and are pollinated by different solitary bee species. Populations representing different species of the O. sphegodes group often flower simultaneously in sympatry. To test whether gene flow across the species boundaries occurs in these sympatric populations, or whether they are reproductively isolated, we examined the distribution of genetic variation within and among populations and species of this group. We collected at each of five different localities in southern France and Italy two sympatric, co-flowering Ophrys populations, representing six Ophrys species in total. The six microsatellite loci surveyed were highly variable. Genetic differentiation among geographically distant populations of the same species was lower than differentiation among sympatric populations of different species. However, the strength of genetic differentiation among species was among the lowest reported for orchids. Genotype assignment tests and marker-based estimates of gene flow revealed that gene flow across species boundaries occurred and may account for the low observed differentiation among species. These results suggest that sexual deceit pollination in Ophrys may be less specific than thought, or that rare mistakes occur.
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Vol. 57 • No. 10