Floral resources, pollinators and fruiting in a threatened tropical deciduous tree

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Abstract

Aims

Nothapodytes nimmoniana (Family Icacinaceae) is a deciduous tree species distributed in Asia facing severe population decline. Wood chips from the tree are a source of camptothecin, a globally sought-after alkaloid with cancer-treating properties, and are harvested unsustainably in natural forests. We studied the pollination ecology of the species and asked if there are constraints in pollination and fruiting success in its natural populations. We also discuss the potential effects of wood extraction on pollinators and reproductive success in the population.

Methods

The study was carried out during the flowering season in two populations with varying exploitation levels, both located in the Protected Area Network in the Western Ghats of Karnataka State. We assessed floral resource availability and measured pollinator diversity and activity in the canopy from the perspective of the biology of the species. We quantified pollinator abundance and percent fruit set as a function of population density.

Important Findings

Flowers belong to the fly pollination syndrome and are open to visits by generalists such as Apis dorsata and Trigona iridipennis. Fruiting success did not vary between exploited and unexploited sites, but there was a significant difference in pollinator assemblage. In a lean male flowering year, fruit set was low, suggesting pollen limitation in the population. No fruiting was recorded in the second year at the site where trees were felled soon after the flowering period. We argue that when male floral resources are altered in exploited populations, pollinators of generalist nature may show a shift in foraging pattern. Also, generalist plants may be as susceptible to pollination loss as are specialist plants. The need for outcrossing in the species would probably exacerbate this vulnerability.

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