Flower traits associated with the visitation patterns of bees

Abstract

Plant-pollinator interactions are partially driven by the expression of plant traits that signal and attract bees to the nutritional resources within flowers. Although multiple physical and chemical floral traits are known to influence the visitation patterns of bees, how distinct bee groups vary in their responses to floral traits has yet to be elucidated. In this study, we used a common garden experiment to test for morphological floral traits associated with pollen quantity at the plant species level, and examined how the visitation patterns of taxonomically and functionally distinct bee groups are related to flower trait characteristics of 39 wildflower species. We also determined how floral traits influence the structure of wild bee communities visiting plants and whether this varies among geographic localities. Our results suggest that floral area is the primary morphological floral trait related to bee visitation of several distinct bee groups, but that wild bee families and functionally distinct bee groups have unique responses to floral trait expression. The composition of the wild bee communities visiting different plants was most strongly associated with variability in floral area, flower height, and the quantity of pollen retained in flowers. Our results inform wildflower habitat management for bees by demonstrating that the visitation patterns of distinct bee taxa can be predicted by floral traits, and highlight that variability in these traits should be considered when selecting plants to support pollinators.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the research technicians that helped collect data for this project, particularly Julia Perrone, Katie Manning, Nate Walton, Gabe King, Michael Killewald, Katie Boyd-Lee, and Marguerite Bolt. In addition, we thank the technical staff that helped maintain our research plots at the three research stations. All plant materials were provided by native plant producers including Wildtype Native Plant Nursery, Hidden Savannah Nursery, and Prairie Moon Nursery. This project was funded by MSU Project GREEEN (GR14-011) and USDA NC-SARE (NCR13-075). Support was also provided to CAB and DAL by the NSF-Long Term Ecological Research Program (DEB 1637653) at the Kellogg Biological Station, and for RI and DAL by Michigan State University AgBioResearch.

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RI, DA, LR, and DG conceived and designed the experiments. LR and DG performed the experiments. CB provided expert statistical advice. JG and LR identified species used for analyses. LR performed statistical analyses and wrote the manuscript. All authors reviewed the manuscript and provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Logan Rowe.

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Communicated by Diethart Matthies .

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Rowe, L., Gibson, D., Bahlai, C.A. et al. Flower traits associated with the visitation patterns of bees. Oecologia 193, 511–522 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04674-0

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Keywords

  • Bees
  • Traits
  • Flowers
  • Conservation
  • Plant–insect interactions