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Single pollinator species losses reduce floral fidelity and plant reproductive function

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Single pollinator species losses reduce floral fidelity and plant reproductive function
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Understanding the functional impacts of pollinator species losses on plant populations is critical given ongoing pollinator declines. Simulation models of pollination networks suggest that plant communities will be resilient to losing many or even most of the pollinator species in an ecosystem. These predictions, however, have not been tested empirically and implicitly assume that pollination efficacy is unaffected by interactions with interspecific competitors. By contrast, ecological theory and data from a wide range of ecosystems show that interspecific competition can drive variation in ecological specialization over short timescales via behavioral or morphological plasticity, although the potential implications of such changes in specialization for ecosystem functioning remain unexplored. We conducted manipulative field experiments in which we temporarily removed single pollinator species from study plots in subalpine meadows, to test the hypothesis that interactions between pollinator species can shape individual species’ functional roles via changes in foraging specialization. We show that loss of a single pollinator species reduces floral fidelity (short-term specialization) in the remaining pollinators, with significant implications for ecosystem functioning in terms of reduced plant reproduction, even when potentially effective pollinators remained in the system. Our results suggest that ongoing pollinator declines may have more serious negative implications for plant communities than is currently assumed. More broadly, we show that the individual functional contributions of species can be dynamic and shaped by the community of interspecific competitors, thereby documenting a distinct mechanism for how biodiversity can drive ecosystem functioning, with potential relevance to a wide range of taxa and systems.


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