Does the likelihood of an Allee effect on plant fecundity depend on the type of pollinator?


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  1. Factors underlying the Allee effect are still heavily debated in ecology. For plants that rely on pollinators for seed production, decreases in conspecific aggregation may reduce attractiveness to floral visitors and lead to an Allee effect. However, floral visitors often differ in their pollination effectiveness; hence, the likelihood of an Allee effect in plant fecundity may depend on how various flower visitors respond to plant aggregation.
  2. We tested for Allee effects on fecundity of individuals across two years in the self-incompatible perennial, Kniphofia linearifolia Baker (Xanthorrhoeaceae), which has two distinct types of pollinator, birds and native bees.
  3. For this, we used three measures of aggregation; population size, density and isolation. We made replicated pollinator observations in populations of various aggregations and quantified fecundity in these populations. To determine the differences in pollinator effectiveness and assess their contribution to fecundity, we selectively excluded bird visitors from K. linearifolia in these populations.
  4. We found that population size, but not density or isolation distance, was associated with increased bird abundance and seed set in one of the two years of the study. Bird visitation rate increased with increased plant aggregation within populations. Fruit set and seed set per flower were positively related to bird visitation rate. The difference in seed set per flower between bird-excluded and unmanipulated plants increased with increasing population size. Although birds were much less frequent visitors than bees (on average 2.1 visits plant−1 h−1 compared to 57.5 visits plant-1 h−1), selective exclusion experiments indicated that birds are consistently the more effective pollinators of this species, and therefore most likely to influence fecundity.
  5. Synthesis. In this system, characterised by an Allee effect on plant fecundity, birds were the most effective pollinators, responded positively to plant aggregation and were associated with increased fecundity. Therefore, the responses of effective pollinators to plant aggregation may be a factor that underlies Allee effects on plant fecundity.