Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 485–495 | Cite as

Feedback effects between plant and flower-visiting insect communities along a primary succession gradient

  • Gianalberto LosapioEmail author
  • Mauro Gobbi
  • Giuseppe Marano
  • Daniele Avesani
  • Patrizia Boracchi
  • Chiara Compostella
  • Maurizio Pavesi
  • Christian Schöb
  • Roberto Seppi
  • Daniele Sommaggio
  • Adriano Zanetti
  • Marco Caccianiga
Original Paper


Primary successions of glacier forelands are unique model systems to investigate community dynamics and assembly processes. However, successional changes of plant and insect communities have been mainly analysed separately. Therefore, changes in plant–insect interactions along successional gradients on glacier forelands remain unknown, despite their relevance to ecosystem functioning. This study assessed how successional changes of the vegetation influenced the composition of the flower-visiting insect assemblages of two plant species, Leucanthemopsis alpina (L.) Heyw. and Saxifraga bryoides L., selected as the only two insect-pollinated species occurring along the whole succession. In addition, we investigated the links between reproductive output of these plants and pollinator abundance through experimental exclusion of pollinators. Plant community structure changed along the succession, affecting the distribution and the abundance of insects via idiosyncratic responses of different insect functional groups. L. alpina interacted with ubiquitously distributed pollinators, while S. bryoides pollinators were positively associated with insect-pollinated plant species density and S. bryoides abundance. With succession proceeding, insect assemblages became more functionally diverse, with the abundance of parasitoids, predators and opportunists positively related to an increase in plant cover and diversity. The reproductive output of both plant species varied among successional stages. Contrary to our expectation, the obligate insect-pollinated L. alpina showed a reproductive output rather independent from pollinator abundance, while the reproductive output of the self-fertile S. bryoides seemed linked to pollinator abundance. Observing ecological interactions and using functional traits, we provided a mechanistic understanding of community assembly processes along a successional gradient. Plant community diversity and cover likely influenced insect community assembly through bottom-up effects. In turn, pollinators regulate plant reproductive output through top-down control. We emphasise that dynamics of alpine plant and insect communities may be structured by biotic interactions and feedback processes, rather than only be influenced by harsh abiotic conditions and stochastic events.


Community assembly Functional traits Glacier forelands Plant–insect interactions Reproductive output 



We thank the Adamello-Brenta Natural Park for providing sampling permission and logistic support. All applicable national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. CS was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (PZ00P3_148261). The research project was co-financed by Autonomous Province of Trento (Italy). All authors disclose any potential sources of conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11829_2016_9444_MOESM1_ESM.doc (8.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 8496 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gianalberto Losapio
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author return OK on get
  • Mauro Gobbi
    • 3
  • Giuseppe Marano
    • 4
  • Daniele Avesani
    • 5
  • Patrizia Boracchi
    • 4
  • Chiara Compostella
    • 6
  • Maurizio Pavesi
    • 7
  • Christian Schöb
    • 2
  • Roberto Seppi
    • 8
  • Daniele Sommaggio
    • 9
  • Adriano Zanetti
    • 5
  • Marco Caccianiga
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiosciencesUniversity of MilanMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Section of Invertebrate Zoology and HydrobiologyMUSE – Museo delle ScienzeTrentoItaly
  4. 4.Unit of Medical Statistics, Biometry and Bioinformatics “Giulio A. Maccacaro”, Department of Clinical Sciences and Community HealthUniversity of MilanMilanItaly
  5. 5.Natural History Museum of VeronaVeronaItaly
  6. 6.Department of Earth ScienceUniversity of MilanMilanItaly
  7. 7.Natural History Museum of MilanMilanItaly
  8. 8.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly
  9. 9.Department of BiologyUniversity of PaduaPaduaItaly

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