Insights from measuring pollen deposition: quantifying the pre-eminence of bees as flower visitors and effective pollinators

Patricia Gillian Willmer, Helen Elizabeth Cunnold, Gavin Andrew Ballantyne

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Abstract

Using our accumulated datasets from Kenyan savanna, Mediterranean garigue, UK gardens and heathland, involving 76 plants from 30 families, we present detailed data to quantify the superiority of bees as pollinators of most flowering plants when compared with other flower visitors. Bees provided the majority of visits to study species at all sites, and 33 of the 76 plants received more than 90% of their visits from bees. Furthermore, pollen deposition onto stigmas from single-visit events (SVD, a measure of pollination effectiveness) was significantly higher for bees than non-bees at all the four sites where a major proportion of the flora was sampled. Solitary bees, and also bumblebees in temperate habitats, were the best potential pollinators for most plants in this respect, and significantly out-performed honeybees. Only a few plants were well served by bombyliid flies, and fewer again by larger hoverflies, butterflies, or solitary wasps. Bees also achieved better matches of their visit timing to peak pollen availability (measured indirectly as peak SVD), and made much shorter visits to flowers than did non-bees, permitting a substantially greater visit frequency. Additionally, they deposited significantly lower levels of potentially deleterious heterospecific pollen on stigmas in heathland and Mediterranean garigue, though not in the UK garden with densely clustered high-diversity flowering, or in the Kenyan savanna site with particularly dispersed flowering patches and some specialist non-bee flowers. Our data provide a novel and quantified characterisation of the specific advantages of bees as flower visitors, and underline the need to conserve diverse bee communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-425
Number of pages15
JournalArthropod-Plant Interactions
Volume11
Issue number3
Early online date6 May 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

Keywords

  • Pollination
  • Pollen deposition
  • Bees
  • Flower visit duration
  • Visit timing
  • Heterospecific pollen

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