Density-Dependent Effects Of Ants On Selection For Bumble Bee Pollination In Polemonium Viscosum

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Dr.. Jennifer C. Geib, Associate Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
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Abstract: Mutualisms are commonly exploited by cheater species that usurp rewards without providing reciprocal benefits. Yet most studies of selection between mutualist partners ignore interactions with third species and consequently overlook the impact of cheaters on evolution in the mutualism. Here, we explicitly investigate how the abundance of nectar-thieving ants (cheaters) influences selection in a pollination mutualism between bumble bees and the alpine skypilot, Polemonium viscosum. As suggested in past work with this species, bumble bees accounted for most of the seed production (78% ± 6% [mean ± SE]) in our high tundra study population and, in the absence of ants, exerted strong selection for large flowers. We tested for indirect effects of ant abundance on seed set through bumble bee pollination services (pollen delivery and pollen export) and a direct effect through flower damage. Ants reduced seed set per flower by 20% via flower damage. As ant density increased within experimental patches, the rate of flower damage rose, but pollen delivery and export did not vary significantly, showing that indirect effects of increased cheater abundance on pollinator service are negligible in this system. To address how ants affect selection for plant participation in the pollination mutualism we tested the impact of ant abundance on selection for bumble bee-mediated pollination. Results show that the impact of ants on fitness (seed set) accruing under bumble bee pollination is density dependent in P. viscosum. Selection for bumble bee pollination declined with increasing ant abundance in experimental patches, as predicted if cheaters constrain fitness returns of mutualist partner services. We also examined how ant abundance influences selection on flower size, a key component of plant investment in bumble bee pollination. We predicted that direct effects of ants would constrain bumble bee selection for large flowers. However, selection on flower size was significantly positive over a wide range of ant abundance (20–80% of plants visited by ants daily). Although high cheater abundance reduces the fitness returns of bumble bee pollination, it does not completely eliminate selection for bumble bee attraction in P. viscosum.

Additional Information

Galen, C. and Geib, J.C. (2007), DENSITY-DEPENDENT EFFECTS OF ANTS ON SELECTION FOR BUMBLE BEE POLLINATION IN POLEMONIUM VISCOSUM. Ecology, 88: 1202-1209. Publisher version of record available at:
Language: English
Date: 2007
alpine skypilot, Bombus kirbyellus, bumble bee pollinators, cheaters, density dependence, exploitation, ?ower size, Formica neoru?barbus gelida, mutualism, nectar-thieving ants, Polemonium viscosum, selection

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