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Keywords:

  • network structure;
  • null model;
  • plant-pollinator network;
  • pollen transport;
  • pollination

Abstract

Mutualistic networks display distinct structural and organizational features such as nestedness, power-law degree distribution and asymmetric dependencies. Attention is now focused on how these structural properties influence network function. Most plant-pollinator networks are constructed using records of animals contacting flowers, which is based on the assumption that all visitors to flowers are pollinators; however, animals may visit flowers as nectar robbers, florivores, or to prey upon other visitors. To differentiate potential pollinator interactions from other interaction types, we examined individual bees that had visited flowers to detect if they carried pollen. Using these data, we constructed visitation and pollen-transport networks for a spinifex-dominated arid zone grassland. To determine how the structure of the visitation network reflects pollen transport, we compared the two networks using a null model approach to account for differences in network size. Differences in number of species, nestedness and connectance observed between the visitation and pollen-transport networks were within expected ranges generated under the null model. The pollen-transport network was more specialized, had lower interaction evenness, and fewer links compared to the visitation network. Almost half the number of species of the visitation network participated in the pollen-transport network, and one-third of unique visitation interactions resulted in pollen transport, highlighting that visitation does not always result in pollination. Floral visitor data indicate potential pollen transporters, but inferring pollination function from visitation networks needs to be performed cautiously as pollen transport resulted from both common and rare interactions, and depended on visitor identity. Although visitation and pollen-transport networks are structurally similar, the function of all species cannot be predicted from the visitation network alone. Considering pollen transport in visitation networks is a simple first step towards determining pollinators from non-pollinators. This is fundamental for understanding how network structure relates to network function.