The researchers discovered how pollinators may contribute to the maintenance of flowering plant diversity. This study that accelerates our understanding of biodiversity conservation is now published in the journal Nature.
“For years, scientists have been puzzled by how numerous rare plant species coexist with abundant species in diverse communities,” said the senior author. “We believe that pollinators can be one critical piece of this puzzle.”
Pollinator service is often limited in nature, and so plants compete with one another for those pollinators. One way to overcome pollinator limitation, is for plants to form specialized relationships with some pollinators, thereby ensuring that pollinators are available for plant fertilization.
The authors monitored 416 pollinator species that visited 79 different flowering plant species. Pollinators included bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
The authors found that specialization between flowering plants and pollinators was greater than expected, and rare plants seemed more likely to form specialized relationships with pollinators to ensure their reproduction and persistence. What’s more, flower characteristics were important predictors of specialization, with plants having pea-like flowers more specialized than plants with aster-like flowers, for example.
The authors also found that not all rare plant species had specialized pollinators but had to use the shared pollinator services. For these rare plants, pollinators that were primarily attracted by abundant species can stop by and pick up rare species pollen as well. This benefits rare species at the cost of abundant species.
The results of this study have clear implications for conservation of native plants and natural systems. It suggests that to conserve rare plant species and diverse plant communities, we also need to conserve the diversity of pollinators that plants depend on for reproductive success.
The authors emphasized in their paper that “In light of pollinator losses worldwide and climatically induced shifts in plant abundances, understanding how pollinators contribute to the persistence of rare plant species is arguably one of the most critical tasks for biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene.”
Pollinators contribute to flowering plant diversity
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