Community plant-pollinator interactions in a Kenyan savannah
Ruiz-Guajardo, Juan Carlos
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Previous work has demonstrated that coflowering plant species (those that flower simultaneously in the same place) can potentially compete for pollination services. Competition for pollination among plant species can negatively impact their reproductive success. To minimise competition, plants can partition the activity of shared pollinators through releasing their floral resources at different times. Resource partitioning has been studied in several individual plant species, and some guilds of plants (e.g. African acacias), but little is known about temporal changes in resources at a community level. This thesis examines the spatiotemporal changes of floral resources at a community level and its implications for pollinator activity patterns. The temporal patterns of nectar and pollen provision of 70 plant species in two different plots were investigated at Mpala, in north central Kenya between 2004 and 2006. The communities studied showed that seasonal and daily microclimatic fluctuations significantly affect flowering patterns, times of flower opening, dehiscence and nectar production; and consequently the overall amount of pollen mass and nectar volume available at different times. I explored the effects of daily temporal changes in floral resource availability on pollinator activity patterns both in a guild of Malvaceae plant species, and at the community level through pollination webs. Detailed observations of daily patterns of resource provision and floral visitation in six Malvaceae plant species showed that plants can effectively avoid competition through attracting different pollinators, and via resource partition. Examination of daily changes in resource availability and the links portrayed in plant-visitor webs revealed that visitors move from one plant species to another, actively tracking changes in floral resource provision. These results suggest that in combination with physiological limitations imposed to the pollinators by temperature, bottom-up influences are a main force shaping daily pollinator activity patterns at a community level. Competition for pollination can only occur if plant species flower simultaneously and share pollinators within the same geographic area. Competition for pollination has been investigated in at least two African communities, but none of these studies have assessed the geographic spatial scale over which competition among coflowering species might happen. With the aim of measuring the geographic distance that pollinators visiting African acacias fly whilst foraging, I used molecular techniques to conduct paternity analysis as a proxy of how far pollen is carried away from particular trees within a population of Senegalia (Acacia) mellifera. The paternity analysis showed that pollinators move on average a maximum of 60 metres from the sampled trees, and that trees producing more flowers (resources) receive more visits, confirming that if sufficient resources are available pollinators can stay within relatively small geographic areas. Pollen movement only provides a partial measurement of the genetic neighbourhood of individual plants, because genes via seed dispersal can travel longer distances than those encompassed by the pollinators foraging areas. To investigate patterns of genetic variability in S. mellifera, I used microsatellites to conduct landscape genetic analyses including 25 adult populations and 9 seedling populations. Fourteen distinctive genetic clusters separated by four main geographic barriers were identified in the analyses. Significantly higher inbreeding was found in the seedling populations than in the adult populations. I discuss the possibility that this situation has been caused by anthropogenic exploitation and fragmentation of the adult stands.