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The relative importance of birds and bees in the pollination of Metrosideros excelsa (Myrtaceae)

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Abstract

Exclusion experiments were used to assess the effect of different pollinator groups on outcrossing and seed production in Metrosideros excelsa. The main study site was Little Barrier Island, New Zealand where indigenous bird and native solitary bees are the main flower visitors. Our results showed that native birds were more important pollinators of M. excelsa than native bees. Seed production was much higher in open pollination than in two exclusion experiments where either birds were excluded and native bees only had access to flowers, or where all pollinators had been excluded. The number of fertile seeds per capsule was 45% higher after open pollination than in treatments with bee visitation only and 28% higher than in treatments where all flower visitors were excluded. Estimated outcrossing rates were significantly higher (tm = 0.71) for open pollination in the upper canopy (>4 m above-ground level) where bird visitation is presumed to be more frequent than for a treatment with native bee access only (tm = 0.40). Our results also suggest that a large proportion of seeds (66%) arise from autonomous self-pollination when all pollinators are excluded. In four trees of a modified mainland population with predominantly introduced birds and a mixture of introduced and native bees there was no decrease in seed production for the treatment allowing bee access only, indicating that – in contrast to native bees – honeybees may be more efficient pollinators of M. excelsa. Observation of the foraging behaviour of both groups of bees showed that native bees contact the stigma of flowers less frequently than honeybees. This is likely to be a consequence of their smaller body size relative to honeybees.

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