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Pollinator diversity and specialization in relation to flower diversity


N. Blüthgen, Dept of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, Biozentrum, Univ. of Würzburg, Am Hubland, DE–97074 Würzburg, Germany. E-mail:


In the face of global decline in biodiversity, the relationship between diversity and species interactions deserves particular attention. If pollinators are strongly dependent on floral diversity due to mutual specialization, declines in plant diversity, e.g. caused by land use intensification, may be associated with linked extinctions of pollinators. However, the general extent of pollinator specialization is still poorly known. To explore the dependence of local bee and hoverfly communities on flower diversity, we recorded flower supply and flower-visiting insects on 27 meadows with varying flower diversity in southern Germany and analyzed (a) whether the diversity of flower visitors is correlated with flower diversity, (b) whether the degree of dietary specialization of flower visitors changes with flower diversity and (c) whether flower preferences of individual flower visitor species are constant or variable between different communities. Flower–visitor interaction webs were compiled during a single day on each meadow. This approach prevents relating pollinator species to flowers they never encounter because of non-overlapping phenology or spatial segregation. (a) Flower diversity and flower visitor diversity were positively correlated. (b) Flower visitor assemblies were significantly specialized at a relatively high level, contrasting to the opinion that plant–pollinator webs are highly generalized, and providing a possible explanation for the positive diversity correlation. However, the level of specialization did not change significantly across the gradient of flower diversity, suggesting that pollinators are partitioned to a similar extent in each meadow. (c) In the analysis of ten common flower visitor species previously categorized as generalists, strong evidence was found for both, consistent preferences and preferences that differ between sites. These results indicate a flexibility in flower preferences and a dynamic resource partitioning among pollinators. Generally, our findings highlight the complexity of plant–pollinator interactions and confirm the importance of flower diversity for bee and hoverfly communities.