As insect diversity declines, plants may begin to compete for pollinators

(ORDO NEWS) — The world is experiencing a worrisome event – a sharp decline in insect species and habitats, which could potentially lead to increased competition between flowering plants that depend on their six-legged pollinators.

As a result, the extinction of insects will inevitably be followed by the extinction of plants, especially rare and small species.

Plants can go to great lengths to lure pollinators into landing on their flowers. They exude the sweet scent of nectar, imitate the smell of rotting flesh (this attracts flies), or even imitate the smell of females ready to mate to attract the attention of males.

Most pollinators visit multiple plant species and this is usually not a problem as there are still plenty of hungry flies, bees, wasps and butterflies around.

But it is now becoming clear that as the number of potential pollen carriers declines, competition among plants is intensifying and may even lead to a kind of silent war.

To test this hypothesis, a group of researchers decided to conduct field experiments in Switzerland, comparing the interactions of annual flowering plants in 80 experimental plots covering an area of ​​about two square meters.

In some areas, the scientists manually transferred pollen from flower to flower, “leveling” the intensity of pollination, in others they relied on natural pollinators, after which they compared the results.

An additional study was then carried out at 22 sites where only one species of insect could pollinate flowers: this situation simulated a sharp decline in insect biodiversity, for example, as a result of the spread of a deadly disease.

It turned out that under normal conditions, all flowering plants got along quite peacefully with each other, but the reduction in the number of pollinators led to a destabilization of their relationship.

If, with an abundance of insects, pollen carriers were enough for everyone, then with a reduction in their number, more common flowers with bright petals turned out to be winners, and rare and unattractive species began to experience a shortage of pollinators.

As insect diversity declines plants may begin to compete for pollinators 2
Nigella field, or wild dill, has less attractive flowers than, say, poppy, and because of this, it can be left without pollinators with a reduction in the number of insects

In addition, some common species with bright petals, such as poppies, have been found to produce seeds three times more efficiently when hand-pollinated.

The research team hypothesized that such plants hold back their potential for the sake of neighboring plants in order to maintain balance in their community.

However, their “altruism” lasts up to a certain point, and as soon as competition for pollinators outweighs the value of preserving the entire plant community, even poppies become “selfish”, striving to survive at the expense of their neighbors.

The results of the study cannot but cause concern among environmentalists – after all, all the data was collected in a relatively small area and in a very short time.

If plant communities can become unstable so quickly, then larger changes in insect diversity can lead to a sharp and rapid decline in the number of annual species, and in the future, perennials.

To prevent this, people should take care to conserve as many insect species as possible (for example, use agricultural pesticides more carefully ) and native plant species that can be used in urban greening or on private plots.

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