Consequences of nectar robbing for the fitness of a threatened plant species

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Abstract

The effect of nectar robbing on plant fitness is poorly understood and restricted to a few plant species. Furthermore, the available studies generally evaluate the effects of nectar robbing on female fitness, disregarding the male component. Here we measured the effects of the nectar-robbing bumblebees on male (measured as pollen analogue flow distance) and female (measured as seed production) reproductive success in the insect-dependent Polygala vayredae, a narrow endemic species from the pre-Pyrenees (Spain). Intense nectar robbing by bumblebees significantly reduced the nectar available to legitimate pollinators in the studied population, and this reduction affected both male and female fitness. Significant differences were observed in fluorescent dye dispersion between robbed and non-robbed flowers within the population. Fluorescent dyes from non-robbed flowers were dispersed to larger distances and over a larger number of flowers when compared with robbed ones. Moreover, significant differences were observed in both fruit set and seed ovule ratios between the two groups, with non-robbed flowers presenting higher reproductive outcomes. However, no effect on seed weight was detected among treatments. The data obtained suggest that in this species, nectar robbing has important indirect and negative effects on plant fecundity, through both male and female functions, due to a modification in the foraging behaviour of legitimate visitors.

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