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Floral traits are associated with the quality but not quantity of heterospecific stigmatic pollen loads.

BMC Ecology 2020 October 7
BACKGROUND: In flowering communities, plant species commonly share pollinators and therefore plant individuals receive heterospecific pollen (HP). However, the patterns of HP transfers can deviate from patterns of plant-pollinator visitations. Although flower-visitor interactions are known to be mediated by floral traits, e.g. floral size or nectar tube depth, the explanatory power of these traits for HP transfer patterns remains elusive. Here, we have explored pollen transfer patterns at three sites in Southern Germany on three dates (early, mid and late summer). At the plant level, we tested whether flower abundance and floral traits are correlated with HP reception and donation. At the community level, we determined whether flower and bee diversity are correlated with network modularity and whether floral traits explain the module affiliation of plant species. We collected the stigmas of flowering plant species, analysed HP and conspecific pollen (CP) loads and measured floral traits, flower and bee diversity.

RESULTS: Our results show that the degree and intensity of HP reception or donation at the plant level do not correlate with floral traits, whereas at the community level, the module affiliation of who is sharing pollen with whom is well-explained by floral traits. Additionally, variation in network modularity between communities is better explained by plant diversity and abundance than by bee diversity and abundance.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our results indicate that floral traits that are known to mediate flower-visitor interactions can improve our understanding of qualitative HP transfer but only provide limited information about the quantity of HP transfer, which more probably depends on other floral traits, flower-visitor identity or community properties.

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