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Landscape context differentially drives diet breadth for two key pollinator species

  • Sarah CusserEmail author
  • John L. Neff
  • Shalene Jha
Plant-microbe-animal interactions – original research


An animal’s diet contributes to its survival and reproduction. Variation in diet can alter the structure of community-level consumer-resource networks, with implications for ecological function. However, much remains unknown about the underlying drivers of diet breadth. Here we use a network approach to understand how consumer diet changes in response to local and landscape context and how these patterns compare between closely-related consumer species. We conducted field surveys to build 36 quantitative plant-pollinator networks using observation-based and pollen-based records of visitation across the gulf-coast cotton growing region of Texas, US. We focused on two key cotton pollinator species in the region: the social European honey bee, Apis mellifera, and the solitary native long-horned bee, Melissodes tepaneca. We demonstrate that diet breadth is highly context-dependent. Specifically, local factors better explain patterns of diet than regional factors for both species, but A. mellifera and M. tepaneca respond to local factors with contrasting patterns. Despite being collected directly from cotton blooms, both species exhibit significant preferences for non-cotton pollen, indicating a propensity to spend substantial effort foraging on remnant vegetation despite the rarity of these patches in the intensely managed cotton agroecosystem. Overall, our results demonstrate that diet is highly context- and species-dependent and thus an understanding of both factors is key for evaluating the conservation of important cotton pollinators.


Diet preference Generality Network analysis 



Special thanks to the growers and land owners that allowed us to sample on their lands; without them none of this work would have been possible. In addition, the help of Texas A&M extension agents, crop consultants, and The Welder Wildlife Refuge, including Roy Parker, Stephen Biles, Lee Hutchins Jr., Nabil Nassari, Kenneth Hanslik, Terry Blankenship, and Selma Glasshook was invaluable. Thanks to the Jha and Woodard labs for helpful feedback and support, including Nate Pope, Antonio Castilla, Megan O’Connell, Kim Ballare, and Hollis Woodard. S.C. and S.J. were funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the National Science Foundation and the Winkler Family Foundation.

Author contribution statement

SC and SJ conceived and designed the experiments. SC performed and analyzed the experiments. JLN identified specimens. SC and SJ wrote the manuscript, and JLN provided editorial advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Statement of human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or vertebrates performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4543_MOESM1_ESM.docx (31 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 30 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.W.K. Kellogg Biological StationMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA
  2. 2.Central Texas Melittological InstituteAustinUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrative Biology, Section of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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