Humming along or buzzing off?: the elusive consequences of plant-pollinator mismatches and factors limiting seed set in the Coast Range of British Columbia

Date

2012-11-29

Authors

Straka, Jason Ryan

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Abstract

There is concern that climate change may cause mismatches between timing of flowering and activity of pollinators (phenology). However, concluding that mismatches will occur, and have serious consequences for pollination services, requires assumptions that have not yet been tested. I begin by discussing a set of these assumptions, bringing past research into the context of mismatch. Briefly, the assumptions are that 1) dates of first-flowering or emergence (DFFE) correctly describe phenology (and therefore mismatch); 2) differences in DFFE represent the magnitude of mismatch; 3) advancement of DFFE will be the primary phenological change; 4) shifts will be random and independent for each species; 5) populations of plants and pollinators are “bottom-up” regulated by their mutualistic interactions; 6) all interactions are of similar strength and importance; 7) dispersal, and the spatial context of phenological mismatches can be ignored; and ecological processes including 8) phenotypic plasticity and adaptive evolution of phenology, 9) competition and facilitation, and 10) emergence of novel interactions, will not affect mismatches. I then describe novel experiments, which could help to account for some of these assumptions, clarifying the existence and impacts of mismatches. Next, I present an original field experiment on factors affecting seed set in an alpine meadow in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada. I found evidence contradicting the assumption that seed set is primarily limited by pollination. My data highlight the roles of phenology, temperature (degree-days above 15°C, and frost hours), and interactions with pollinators (mutualists) and seed-predators (floral antagonists) in driving patterns of seed set. Seed set of early and late-flowering species responded differently to a 400m elevation gradient, which might be explained by phenology of bumble bees. My data suggest that the consequences of mismatch may be smallest for plants that are fly-pollinated and self-fertile. Non-selfing, bee-pollinated species might be more prone to reproductive limitation through mismatch (affected by snowmelt and cumulative degree-days). Plants that are limited by seed-predators might be negatively affected by warming temperatures with fewer frost hours, and extreme events such as late-season frosts and hail storms can prevent plants from setting seed entirely. Overall, my work emphasizes the importance of complementing theory, data-driven simulations, and meta-analyses with experiments carried out in the field.

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Keywords

community ecology, phenology, pollination, plant-pollinator interactions, flowering time, climate change, temporal and altitudinal gradients, field experiments, pollinator decline, mutualism, pollen limitation, temperature, Marriott Basin, ecological networks, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Erythronium grandiflorum, Anemone occidentalis, Claytonia lanceolata, Vaccinium membranaceum, Caltha leptosepala, Arnica latifolia, alpine meadows, Lupinus arcticus, trophic mismatch

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