The life history of figs (Ficus, Moraceae) involves pollination by specialized insects and seed dispersal by vertebrate frugivores. This three-way interaction raises the possibility of conflict between pollinators and seed dispersers over fig resources. The conflict might be mediated in dioecious figs by the segregation of inflorescences with specialized male and female sexual functions, termed gall figs and seed figs, on separate trees. In dioecious figs, pollinators are intimately associated with gall figs, whereas vertebrate frugivores prefer seed figs and disperse the seeds they contain. Optimal foraging theory predicts that frugivore preference for ripe seed figs is associated with superior nutritional quality when compared to gall figs. We tested this prediction comparing nutrient and mineral properties of ripe figs in 12 functionally dioecious and two monoecious species from New Guinea. Analyses of variance indicated that gall figs contain more fiber and minerals, whereas seed figs contain significantly more carbohydrates and fat. Fruit bats, the primary dispersers of dioecious figs in New Guinea, prefer carbohydrate-rich diets, and from this perspective, seed figs offer a greater nutritional reward than gall figs. More nondigestible fiber in gall figs than seed figs would appear to discourage frugivory. Parallel differences between ripe gall figs and seed figs occur in each independent dioecious lineage whereas nutritional content in monoecious figs is more similar to seed figs. This suggests that sexual dimorphism in nutritional quality might be adaptive and associated with the maintenance of functional dioecy in figs.
- Papua New Guinea