Movement strategy of pollinators plays a positive role in adaptation of plant population to habitat loss

Le Jiao, Peng Zhang, Heyue Zhang, Dongdong Shao, Wei Yang, Tao Sun

This is a plain language summary of a Functional Ecology research article which can be found here.

More than 85% of flowering plants need pollinators (e.g. bees, butterflies, hoverflies) to transfer pollen. Therefore, the movement behavior and strategy of pollinators will significantly affect pollination success and subsequent seed set. However, such movement is often disturbed by the habitat loss resulting from human activities. To clarify the effect of pollinator movement on plant reproduction in fragmented landscapes, an integrated model was developed to simulate pollinator movement based on two key stages in the pollination process: a foraging stage towards plant patches mediated by floral scents, and a dispersal stage between plant patches mediated by density-dependent dispersal (a general strategy exhibited by pollinators).

Saltcedar (Tamarix chinensis) and its pollinators (Taken by Le Jiao in the Yellow River Delta in May and June 2017)

Results show that the negative impact of habitat loss on plant reproduction is due to the reduced foraging success rate of pollinators, caused by the decreasing amount of floral scents. However, the density-dependent dispersal strategy of pollinators can encourage them to visit suboptimal plant patches (distant, low-density patches), which improves the subsequent seed set in such plant patches. Nonetheless, such an improvement effect is not unlimited. When habitat loss exceeds 60%, which can be defined as critical threshold, pollinator visitation rate and subsequent plant reproduction will decline abruptly.

Collectively, these findings suggest that although habitat loss has a negative effect on plant reproduction, the movement strategy of pollinators (i.e. density-dependent dispersal strategy) can mitigate the adverse impact by promoting the visitation of suboptimal plant patches, thereby improving the persistence of plant population in fragmented landscapes. We therefore highlight a positive role of pollinator movement strategy in alleviating the negative effect of habitat loss on plant reproduction.


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