Plant–animal interactions in suburban environments: implications for floral evolution

Abstract

Plant interactions with mutualists and antagonists vary remarkably across space, and have played key roles in the ecology and evolution of flowering plants. One dominant form of spatial variation is human modification of the landscape, including urbanization and suburbanization. Our goal was to assess how suburbanization affected plant–animal interactions in Gelsemium sempervirens in the southeastern United States, including interactions with mutualists (pollination) and antagonists (nectar robbing and florivory). Based on differences in plant–animal interactions measured in multiple replicate sites, we then developed predictions for how these differences would affect patterns of natural selection, and we explored the patterns using measurements of floral and defensive traits in the field and in a common garden. We found that Gelsemium growing in suburban sites experienced more robbing and florivory as well as more heterospecific but not conspecific pollen transfer. Floral traits, particularly corolla length and width, influenced the susceptibility of plants to particular interactors. Observational data of floral traits measured in the field and in a common garden provided some supporting but also some conflicting evidence for the hypothesis that floral traits evolved in response to differences in species interactions in suburban vs. wild sites. However, the degree to which plants can respond to any one interactor may be constrained by correlations among floral morphological traits. Taken together, consideration of the broader geographic context in which organisms interact, in both suburban and wild areas, is fundamental to our understanding of the forces that shape contemporary plant–animal interactions and selection pressures in native species.

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Acknowledgments

We thank J. Andicoechea, J. Benning, L. diBiccari, J. Post, L. Rolfe, and J. Stevens for help in the field, lab, and/or greenhouse, T. Barry and K. DeLong for help with the greenhouse Gelsemium, R. and B. Warren for providing housing during field research, and J. Andicoechea, L. Richardson, R. Schaeffer, C. Urbanowicz, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. Access to field sites was made possible by cooperation from landowners, homeowners’ associations, and private citizens, the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, the Wake County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space, and North Carolina State University. Research was funded by the National Science Foundation (DEB-0743535/0742923 and DEB-0841862) and a Faculty Research Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation at Dartmouth College. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding sources.

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Correspondence to Rebecca E. Irwin.

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Communicated by Jennifer Thaler.

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Irwin, R.E., Warren, P.S., Carper, A.L. et al. Plant–animal interactions in suburban environments: implications for floral evolution. Oecologia 174, 803–815 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2797-2

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Keywords

  • Suburbanization
  • Floral evolution
  • Florivory
  • Nectar robbing
  • Gelsemium sempervirens