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Local shifts in floral biotic interactions in habitat edges and their effect on quantity and quality of plant offspring.


ABSTRACT: Spatial shifts in insect fauna due to ecological heterogeneity can severely constrain plant reproduction. Nonetheless, data showing effects of insect visit patterns and intensity of mutualistic and/or antagonistic plant-insect interactions on plant reproduction over structured ecological gradients remain scarce. We investigated how changes in flower-visitor abundance, identity and behaviour over a forest-open habitat gradient affect plant biotic interactions, and quantitative and qualitative fitness in the edge-specialist Dianthus balbisii. Composition and behaviour of the insects visiting flowers of D. balbisii strongly varied over the study gradient, influencing strength and patterns of plant biotic interactions (i.e. herbivory and pollination likelihood). Seed set comparison in free- and manually pollinated flowers suggested spatial variations in the extent of quantitative pollen limitation, which appeared more pronounced at the gradient extremes. Such variations were congruent to patterns of flower visit and plant biotic interactions. The analyses on seed and seedling viability evidenced that spatial variation in amount and type of pollinators, and frequency of herbivory affected qualitative fitness of D. balbisii by influencing selfing and outcrossing rates. Our work emphasizes the role of plant biotic interactions as a fine-scale mediator of plant fitness in ecotones, highlighting that optimal plant reproduction can take place into a restricted interval of the ecological gradients occurring at forest edges. Reducing the habitat complexity typical of such transition contexts can threat edge-adapted plants.

SUBMITTER: Gargano D 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC5534021 | BioStudies | 2017-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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