What happens when pollinators lose their flowers?
Researchers at the University of Northampton and a team from institutions in the Czech Republic have been studying the consequences of flower loss for pollinator communities and for plant pollination.
In a study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, the team performed experiments in both countries that involved temporarily removing thousands of flower heads from grassland plant communities. They then assessed how the pollinator assemblage responded to their removal, and how effectively the remaining flowers were pollinated.
Focusing on generalist plant species that support the majority of pollinators within a community, results demonstrated how pollinators flexibly adjust their behaviour when faced with a loss of resources, tending to switch to flowers of a similar shape to the ones that have been lost.
One of the study’s authors, Prof. Jeff Ollerton, Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Northampton, said:
“For the first time we are seeing the consequences of sudden loss of flowers for both the pollinators and the plants in a habitat. That the pollinators can respond flexibly to this loss is a welcome indication that these insects might be more resilient to sudden changes than we had thought. However, the erratic pollination of the flowers shows that there is a great deal of random chance within these ecological systems that is not easily predictable…”
One of the team’s recommendations is that pollination-generalist plant species should be given much more attention in conservation assessments than has previously been the case.