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Nectar robbers deter legitimate pollinators by mutilating flowers

Citation

Varma, Sangeetha et al. (2020), Nectar robbers deter legitimate pollinators by mutilating flowers, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.jq2bvq867

Abstract

Nectar robbing – harvesting nectar illegitimately – can have a variety of outcomes for plant sexual reproduction and for the pollinator community. Nectar robbers can damage flowers while robbing nectar, which could affect the behavior of subsequent flower visitors and, consequently, plant reproduction. However, only nectar manipulation by nectar robbers has so far received attention. We found a short-tongued bee, Hoplonomia sp. (Halictidae), mutilating the conspicuous lower petal of the zygomorphic flowers of Leucas aspera (Lamiaceae) while robbing nectar. We hypothesized that the mutilation of the conspicuous lower petal deters legitimate pollinators on L. aspera flowers, which, in turn, might affect plant reproduction. We first assessed the proportion of naturally-robbed flowers in plant populations for three years to confirm that it was not a purely local phenomenon due to a few individual bees. We then studied diversity, community and visitation characteristics of pollinators, nectar dynamics, and fruit set in unrobbed and robbed open flowers in naturally-robbed populations. The proportion of robbed flowers varied significantly across sites and years. Robbing did not affect nectar dynamics in flowers, but it did alter flower morphology, so much so that it reduced pollinator visitation and altered the pollinator community on robbed flowers. However, the maternal function of plant reproduction was not affected by nectar robbing. This study for the first time shows that a nectar robber can have an ecologically significant impact on floral morphology.

Methods

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Funding

Science Engineering Research Board, Award: EMR/2016/007170