Persistence of flower visitors and pollination services of a generalist tree in modified forests


Present address: Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt (Main), Germany (Email:


Flower-visiting insects provide essential pollination services to many plant species. It is thus of critical importance to understand the effects of anthropogenic landscape modification on these animals. Particularly at the landscape scale, we still lack information on how flower visitors are affected by different intensities of human disturbance. In this study, we chose six representative types of forest modification across a heterogeneous South African landscape. At 36 study sites we observed insect visitation to Celtis africana flowers in two consecutive years. This generalist tree species has small unspecialized flowers which we found to be pollinated by a diverse array of insects as well as by wind. Visitation rates to flowers of C. africana differed significantly among the six forest types and between two study years. Visitation rates were enhanced in modified forests, facilitated by a high abundance of feral honeybees (Apis mellifera). Fruit set in C. africana showed significant positive associations with insect visitation and with the diversity of flower visitors, but was only weakly predicted by forest type. Our findings imply that even though forest modification can strongly alter flower visitors, pollination services for trees with unspecialized flowers may persist at a landscape scale. We advise conservation managers to maintain modified forest fragments in addition to natural forests as these may contribute to sustain pollination services in human-modified landscapes.