Plant-pollinator network assembly after wildfire

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Plant-pollinator networks are threatened by anthropogenic influence due to habitat loss, changing fire regimes, climate change and other factors. Furthermore, we have little current knowledge for how species interactions and processes like pollination assemble and recover post-disturbance. Studying the mechanisms by which plant-pollinator interactions assemble in a post-disturbance landscape, particularly across gradients of disturbance intensity and successional time, would greatly help in building foundational ecological knowledge regarding the assembly of species interactions as well as provide specific information to aid conservation and management. Therefore, we investigated plant-pollinator network assembly after wildfire, between mixed- and high-severity burns and across time-since-burn, and we asked i) how do network structure and the network roles of persistent species vary ii) how does wildfire change the nutritional landscape of available floral pollen quality and how does that influence bumble bee foraging and nutrition, and iii) how do nesting and floral resources affected by wildfire influence wood-cavity-bee nesting success and richness? Our study design involved four wildfires from the Absaroka Mountains of southwest Montana, USA, which included a range of burn severities as well as a 1-25 year chronosequence of time-since-burn sampled primarily from 2014 to 2016. Bees were sampled via hand netting and nesting boxes alongside floral census transects and pollen sampling to assess metrics important to plant-pollinator network assembly, available floral pollen quality, bumble bee nutrition, and wood-cavity-nesting bee nesting success. The primary findings are that i) plant-pollinator network structure does not dramatically shift with burn severity or time-since-burn, nor do the network roles of persistent species, ii) available floral pollen quality and bumblebee nutrition are limited by high-severity burns, and iii) burn severity has little effect on the nesting success of wood-cavity-nesting bees. The conclusions that follow these results are mainly that i) evidence of constant structure and low variance of species' roles provides evidence for preferential attachment over opportunistic attachment in assembling plant-pollinator networks post-disturbance, ii) varied species composition between mixed- and high-severity burns may mean that bumble bees are nutritionally limited in high-severity burns, and iii) nesting resources do not appear to strongly limit nesting success or richness of wood-cavity-nesting bees.




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