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African sunbirds predominantly pollinate plants useful to humans

Cite this dataset

Newmark, William; Mkongewa, Victor; Admundsen, Debra; Welch, Chad (2021). African sunbirds predominantly pollinate plants useful to humans [Dataset]. Dryad.


Birds provide multiple ecological services that benefit humans including pollination. In Africa, sunbirds are the domi- nant vertebrate pollinator. Here we present a species-level assessment for African sunbirds of the number and relative frequency of their food plants that have useful properties to humans. We conducted this analysis by compiling and integrating known sunbird food plants with useful tropical plant and tropical cultivated plant databases. Across Africa, 68% of the 329 genera and 44% of the 468 species of sunbirds’ known food plants are used by humans for medicine, food, building materials, or other uses. Yet most genera and species of useful plants are visited by a small number of sunbird species. The median number of sunbird species that visit a useful genus and species of plant is two and one, re- spectively. Of the 409 genera and 308 species of useful plants that are sunbird pollinated across one or more of the six predominant habitats for sunbirds, 67% of genera and 71% of species are pollinated by sunbird species that are forest or woodland dependent. Additionally, 58% of all genera and 83% of all species of useful plants pollinated by sunbirds are non-cultivated. In Africa, non-cultivated sunbird-pollinated useful plants are almost entirely collected, used, and traded locally rather than regionally or internationally. Our results indicate that African sunbirds provide important ecological services as pollinators that benefit humans, and these services are provided largely at a local scale. Given the decline of invertebrate and vertebrate pollinators both globally and in Africa, sunbirds are important to the long-term conservation of many useful plants in Africa and hence human well-being.


JRS Biodiversity Foundation, Award: #60708_TAWIRI