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Plant–pollinator interaction niche broadens in response to severe drought perturbations

Abstract

The composition of plant–pollinator interactions—i.e., who interacts with whom in diverse communities—is highly dynamic, and we have a very limited understanding of how interaction identities change in response to perturbations in nature. One prediction from niche and diet theory is that resource niches will broaden to compensate for resource reductions driven by perturbations, yet this has not been empirically tested in plant–pollinator systems in response to real-world perturbations in the field. Here, we use a long-term dataset of floral visitation to Ipomopsis aggregata, a montane perennial herb, to test whether the breadth of its floral visitation niche (i.e., flower visitor richness) changed in response to naturally occurring drought perturbations. Fewer floral resources are available in drought years, which could drive pollinators to expand their foraging niches, thereby expanding plants’ floral visitation niches. We compared two drought years to three non-drought years to analyze changes in niche breadth and community composition of floral visitors to I. aggregata, predicting broadened niche breadth and distinct visitor community composition in drought years compared to non-drought years. We found statistically significant increases in niche breadth in drought years as compared to non-drought conditions, but no statistically distinguishable changes in community composition of flower visitors. Our findings suggest that plants’ floral visitation niches may exhibit considerable plasticity in response to disturbance. This may have widespread consequences for community-level stability as well as functional consequences if increased niche overlap affects pollination services.

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Acknowledgements

M. Price, A. Brody, D. Campbell, R. Irwin, and N. Waser contributed data that were critical to the success of this project. We thank A. Curtsdotter, T. Reynolds, A. Fife, and D. MacArthur-Waltz for field assistance in 2018. M. Sharer led field data collection in 2019 before sampling was abandoned. In 2012, we had assistance from L. Anderson, K. Niezgoda, A. Petroff, and N. Vila-Santana. In previous years we acknowledge P. Aigner, R. Bollier, X. Colleau, P. Flanagan, C. Engel, D. Graydon, B. Koch, C. Koehler, D. Massart, H. Mayer, M. Mayfield, B. Peterson, H. Prendeville, A. Price, J. Ruvinsky, K. Sharaf, N. Thorne, G. Pederson, A. Valdenaire, and E. Wilkinson for their work in field data collection. Special thanks to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for space and research support during fieldwork. Permission to work on US Forest Service land provided through the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory Special Use Permit.

Funding

Field collection support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1120572 and DEB-1834497 to BJB); a Lester Research Grant through the Emory University Department of Environmental Sciences (to KLE); and the ARCS Foundation (to CNM).

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KLE and CNM contributed equally to this paper. HMB conceptualized the study. KLE, CNM, XL, and BB analyzed the data. KLE, CNM, and BB drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to data collection. All authors contributed critically to editing the manuscript and gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Connor N. Morozumi.

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

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

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Availability of data and material

The data was deposited in the repository Digital Dryad under the reference number [ref number provided upon acceptance].

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Code developed during the current study is available from GitHub, access from the corresponding author on request.

Additional information

Understanding how species change interaction partners following disturbance is key for managing ecosystems impacted by ongoing environmental change. This work supports the hypothesis—driven by diet theory—that the set of flower visitor interaction partners would increase to a focal plant in lower-resource (drought) conditions. This work is novel in its use of a predictive theoretical framework, its leveraging of long-term data on flower visitation, and its analytical framework that allows cohesive comparison of disparately collected data.

Communicated by Moshe Inbar.

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Endres, K.L., Morozumi, C.N., Loy, X. et al. Plant–pollinator interaction niche broadens in response to severe drought perturbations. Oecologia (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-021-05036-0

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Keywords

  • Optimal foraging
  • Interspecific competition
  • Interaction plasticity
  • Floral visitation
  • Plant–pollinator
  • Foraging niche