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Florally rich habitats reduce insect pollination and the reproductive success of isolated plants: Pollinator foraging and plant reproduction

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  • Tracie Marie Evans
  • Stephen Cavers
  • Richard Ennos
  • Adam Vanbergen
  • Matthew Heard

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    Rights statement: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2017 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6507–6518
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2017


Landscape heterogeneity in floral communities has the potential to modify pollinator behaviour. Pollinator foraging varies with the diversity, abundance and spatial configuration of floral resources. However, the implications of this variation for pollen transfer and ultimately, the reproductive success of insect pollinated plants remains unclear, especially for species which are rare or isolated in the landscape.
We used a landscape-scale experiment, coupled with microsatellite genotyping, to explore how the floral richness of habitats affected pollinator behaviour and pollination effectiveness. Small arrays of the partially self-compatible plant Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) were introduced across a landscape gradient to simulate rare, spatially-isolated populations. The effects on pollinator activity, outcrossing and plant reproduction were measured.
In florally rich habitats, we found reduced pollen movement between plants, leading to fewer long-distance pollination events, lower plant outcrossing and a higher incidence of pollen limitation. This pattern indicates a potential reduction in per capita pollinator visitation, as suggested by the lower activity densities and richness of pollinators observed within florally rich habitats. In addition, seed production reduced by a factor of 1.8 in plants within florally rich habitats and progeny germination reduced by a factor of 1.2. We show this to be a consequence of self-fertilisation within the partially self-compatible plant, E.californica.
These findings indicate that locally rare plants are at a competitive disadvantage within florally rich habitats because neighbouring plant species disrupt conspecific mating by co-opting pollinators. Ultimately, this Allee effect may play an important role in determining the long-term persistence of rarer plants in the landscape, both in terms of seed production and viability. Community context therefore requires consideration when designing and implementing conservation management for plants which are comparatively rare in the landscape.

    Research areas

  • Microsatellites, Outcrossing, Paternity analysis, Pollen flow, Pollen 47 limitation, Pollinator foraging, Self-fertilisation, Viability

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