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Keywords:

  • biological corridor;
  • connectivity;
  • fluorescent dye;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • insect pollination;
  • intensively used agricultural landscape;
  • landscape management;
  • plant density;
  • pollen flow;
  • population size

Summary

1. Habitat fragmentation in agricultural landscapes has reduced the population sizes of many plant species while increasing their spatial isolation. Restoration or maintenance of the connectivity by gene flow between the fragmented patches may be determinant to sustaining viable populations, especially for insect-pollinated species. Functional biological corridors facilitating pollen flow between remnants in a human-dominated matrix might achieve this.

2. Dye dispersal was investigated for the extremely fragmented insect-pollinated herb Primula vulgaris, using fluorescent dye particles as pollen analogues, in a study site comprising 20 populations, of which 13 pairs were physically connected by a linear landscape elements (LLEs, ditches), and 11 pairs were not connected by an LLE. The dye deposition events were used to fit a model of pollen dispersal at the landscape level. We examined whether existing LLEs in the intensively used agricultural landscape act as functional corridors for pollen dispersal. The effects of LLE length and size and plant density of the recipient population on the dispersal patterns were tested.

3. Dye dispersal showed a leptokurtic decay distribution, with 80% of the dye transfers occurring at less than 85.1 m, and a maximal distance of 1010.8 m. The mean distance travelled by fluorescent dye particles based on the dye dispersal model was δ = 87 m.

4. Dye dispersal between populations was found to be significantly higher when populations were connected by an LLE, than when populations were unconnected. For the group of population pairs connected by an LLE, dye deposition significantly decreased with the distance to dye source, but was not related to recipient population size and plant density.

5. Synthesis. Our study is, to our knowledge, the first to demonstrate that existing LLEs in an intensively used farmland may act as functional biological corridors facilitating pollen dispersal through pollinator movements. The maintenance or restoration of a network of populations connected by LLEs, but also by other landscape structures (e.g. population relays in vegetation patches and networks of small elements allowing indirect connections) should be strongly encouraged.