Pollinator-mediated interactions

What determines whether plants will help or harm each other’s pollination?

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Holocarpha virgata, the species used in Prof. Essenberg’s studies of effects of flower density on flower visitation

A wealth of studies on the effects of plants on one another’s pollination, both within and between plant species, shows that these effects are often strong but vary greatly, making it difficult to predict whether plants will help or harm one another.  Prof. Essenberg’s work prior to coming to Bates focused on how flower visitors respond to flower density and helps to explain the variation in how plants influence pollination success of other members of their own species.  You can read about that work in the following publications:

Essenberg, C. J. 2012. Explaining variation in the effect of floral density on pollinator visitation. American Naturalist 180(2): 153-166.

Essenberg, C. J. 2013. Scale-dependent shifts in the species composition of flower visitors with changing floral density. Oecologia 171(1): 187-196.

Essenberg, C. J. 2013. Explaining the effects of floral density on flower visitor species composition. American Naturalist 181(3): 344-356.

We are currently exploring how plants influence the pollination of other species growing near them.  In particular, we are curious to know how the floral cues and rewards offered by each species will influence whether they aide each other in attracting pollinators or draw pollinators away from each other, as well as how much pollinators travel between the two species.  If you are a Bates student interested in these questions, there is an opportunity to work on them using laboratory experiments with bumblebees.

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Bee entering an artificial flower during an experiment exploring how floral cues influence the effects flowers of different species could have on each other’s pollination