Plant-Pollinator Interactions over 120 Years: Loss of Species, Co-Occurrence, and Function

Science  29 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6127, pp. 1611-1615
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232728

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Honeybees Can't Do It Alone

The majority of food crops require pollination to set fruit with the honeybee providing a pollination workhorse, with both feral and managed populations an integral component of crop management (see the Perspective by Tylianakis, published online 28 February). Garibaldi et al. (p. 1608, published online 28 February) now show that wild pollinators are also a vital part of our crop systems. In more than 40 important crops grown worldwide, wild pollinators improved pollination efficiency, increasing fruit set by twice that facilitated by honeybees. Burkle et al. (p. 1611, published online 28 February) took advantage of one of the most thorough and oldest data sets available on plant-pollinator interaction networks and recollected data on plant-pollinator interactions after more than 120 years of climate change and landscape alteration. The historical data set consists of observations collected by Charles Robertson near Carlinville, Illinois (USA), in the late 1800s on the phenology of plants and their pollinating insects, as well as information about which plants and pollinators interacted with one another. Many sites were revisited in the early 1970s and in 2009 and 2010 to collect similar plant-pollinator data. Pollinator function has declined through time, with bees showing lower visitation rates and lower fidelity to individual plant species.


Using historic data sets, we quantified the degree to which global change over 120 years disrupted plant-pollinator interactions in a temperate forest understory community in Illinois, USA. We found degradation of interaction network structure and function and extirpation of 50% of bee species. Network changes can be attributed to shifts in forb and bee phenologies resulting in temporal mismatches, nonrandom species extinctions, and loss of spatial co-occurrences between extant species in modified landscapes. Quantity and quality of pollination services have declined through time. The historic network showed flexibility in response to disturbance; however, our data suggest that networks will be less resilient to future changes.

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