Pollinator aggregative and functional responses to flower density: does pollinator response to patches of plants accelerate at low-densities?


  • Tracy S. Feldman

T. S. Feldman, Biology Dept,Box 90338, Duke Univ., Durham, NC 27708-0338, USA, also at: Plant Biology Division, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, 2510 Sam Noble Parkway, Andmore, OK 73401-2124, USA (org).


Plant reproduction is often reduced at low densities, due to reduced pollinator visitation rates. Recent theory suggests that a disproportionate increase in pollinator visits to patches of plants as heterospecific plant density increases (i.e. if visitation is a sigmoid function of patch density) can rescue sparse populations of a focal plant species from reduced reproductive success or population decline. A field experiment was performed to determine the shape of the pollinator visitation response to patches of differing density of the common weed Brassica rapa. Both the aggregative and functional response for the entire pollinator community were saturating rather than sigmoid, indicating that pollinator response does not accelerate when density increases. The results for the entire pollinator community were consistent among temporal and spatial replicates. Aggregative response curves for specific pollinator taxa were either linear (bombyliid flies) or saturating (syrphid flies, solitary bees, and Lepidoptera). Functional responses for these taxa were saturating (syrphid flies and solitary bees) or flat (bombyliid flies and Lepidoptera). Individual pollinators visited more plants during foraging bouts in high-density patches, but visits per plant decreased. Seeds per fruit and seeds per flower increased with increasing density. There is no evidence that pollinators disproportionately visit denser patches, or that the conditions for this mechanism of pollination facilitation are likely to be met in this generalist pollinator system.