A review of European studies on pollination networks and pollen limitation, and a case study designed to fill in a gap

Europe has a long history of human use of grassland ecosystems as hay meadows, yet these ecosystems have very high biodiversity. These ecosystems have recently become threatened by changing land use patterns and agricultural intensification, and are now considered a priority for global conservation efforts. The relationship between plants and their animal pollinators can be particularly vulnerable to anthopogenic environmental change. To fully assess the importance of different drivers, baseline information is needed on plant-pollinator interaction networks and plant reproductive success around the world.

Experimental set up used in the study
Pollen supplementation and compatibility system experiments on Lotus corniculatus. Bridal veil was placed on unopened flowers to exclude pollinators (bag treatment) and other plants were marked with coloured yarn to indicate control and supplemental pollen treatments. Image credit: Alina Martin.

A recent study conducted by Bennett et al., and published in AoBP, aimed to identify and bring awareness to research gaps in European pollination ecology. By systematically searching literature on plant-pollinator networks and pollen limitation the authors found a strong Western European bias in the location of studies and no baseline assessment of plant-pollinator interaction in Eastern European landscapes. To address this data gap, the authors quantified plant-pollinator interactions and conducted breeding system and pollen supplementation experiments in a traditionally managed meadow in the Eastern Romanian Carpathian Mountains. This meadow was found to be highly diverse, with a healthy plant–pollinator network. Despite the presence of many pollinator-dependent plant species, there was no evidence of pollen limitation.This study is the first to provide baseline information for a healthy meadow at the community level on both plant–pollinator interactions and their relationship with ecosystem function (e.g. plant reproduction) in an Eastern European country. Alongside the baseline data, the authors also provide recommendations for future research, and the methodological information needed for the continued monitoring and management of Eastern European meadows.

Researcher highlight

This article has dual first authors and researcher highlights for both first authors are provided below.

Dr. Joanne M. Bennett‘s primary research goal is to understand how anthropogenic change will influence species distributions and affect their interactions, focusing on interactions that are vital for ecosystem function, such as pollination. She completed her PhD in 2013 at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia under the supervision of Professor Ralph Mac Nally and Dr. Rohan Clarke. After her PhD, Joanne was motivated to understand how climate change will influence species distributions over much larger temporal and spatial scales, work she conducted at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) as a synthesis postdoc. Currently, she is working on a project investigating the link between drivers of global change and how the loss of pollinator mutualisms influences plant populations, using analysis of global data on pollen limitation, as a postdoc in the Spatial Interaction Ecology (SIE) Research Group of Prof Tiffany Knight at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany.

Amibeth Thompson obtained a MSc in Biology in 2017 from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany and is currently working on her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Tiffany Knight at the same institution. Amibeth is a pollination ecologist interested in plant-pollinator networks and how the interactions differ across space and in time. Her current research is looking at network structure in agro-ecosystems in Germany.

Further reading

Bennett, J. M., Thompson, A., Goia, I., Feldmann, R., Ştefan, V., Bogdan, A., … Knight, T. M. (2018). A review of European studies on pollination networks and pollen limitation, and a case study designed to fill in a gap. AoB PLANTS. https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/ply068