The outcome of shared pollination services is affected by the density and spatial pattern of an attractive neighbour



  1. Interactions among neighbouring plants are often mediated by foraging choices of pollinators. For example, the presence of a conspicuous species may increase the number of pollinators attracted to its vicinity, indirectly increasing visitation rates also to neighbouring plants. Because pollinator choices are frequently density-dependent, the presence of a conspicuous species at high densities may also increase competition for pollination services. Additionally, models predict that plant density will interact with spatial distribution in manipulating the pollinator behaviour, yet experimental evidence for this effect is missing.
  2. We performed a field experiment in which we introduced a highly conspicuous species in different densities and spatial configurations in a full-factorial manner into a species-rich meadow and studied its effect on neighbouring plants.
  3. We showed that the highly conspicuous species strongly contributed to the attractiveness of its local patch and thus benefited its neighbours. However, because of the strong density effect, the conspicuous species changed its role and became a competitor for pollinators when its density increased.
  4. We supported our theoretical assumptions and showed that when the introduced conspicuous species was regularly distributed among other plants in the patch, it increased visitation rate, and in some cases also seed set, to conspicuous neighbours relative to when it was aggregated, at least at low densities.
  5. Synthesis. We suggest that complex interactions between density and spatial distribution of plant species at the patch scale are highly relevant for the interpretation of pollinator behaviour and therefore should be treated as factors of floral attractiveness in future studies.