Plant-flower visitor interactions in the Sacred Valley of Peru

  • Stella Watts

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The structural organisation of species-rich plant-pollinator networks is important to understanding their ecology and evolution and is essential for making informed conservation and restoration decisions. This thesis reports on a study located at different altitudes in nine tributary valleys of the Sacred Valley, Vilcanota Highlands, Peru. The assemblages of flower visitors were described and the plant-flower visitor matrices were analysed and compared to those found from other montane systems. Additionally, the thesis also addressed how the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) fits into these communities. Previous studies have predicted that abundance, diversity, and importance of hymenopterans as pollinators decrease with increasing altitude, where they are replaced by Lepidoptera and Diptera. Contrary to other temperate montane areas, Hymenoptera were more diverse at higher elevations. Diptera was the most abundant functional group overall but did not significantly increase in abundance with altitude as predicted. Species richness of visited plants reached a maximum at the highest altitudes. Using ordination analysis, hummingbirds, honeybees, flies and beetles were identified as major functional groups of flower visitors with significantly different visitation profiles. Nestedness analysis revealed that the plant-flower visitor networks had a similar structure to other published networks, consisting of core groups of generalist plants and animals which interacted with one another and with specialised flower visitors and plants, respectively. The core species varied in identity between valleys, but were usually the species in greatest abundance, implying that the networks were abundance structured. In addition, 85% of the interactions were observed only in single valleys. This context specificity may have implications for the conservation of plant-pollinator interactions in the Sacred Valley. Comparisons of the pollinator efficiencies of honeybees, hummingbirds, native bees and moths to Duranta mandonii (Verbenaceae) demonstrated significant variation among flower visitors in rates of visitation, pollen removal ability and contribution to fruit set. This variation was not correlated: hummingbirds were by far the most frequent visitors but removed virtually no pollen and did not contribute to fruit set. Despite the taxonomic diversity of flower visitors, the main pollinators were large native bumblebees and honeybees. Results highlighted the importance of measuring efficiency components when documenting plant-pollinator interactions, and also demonstrated that visitation rates may give little insight into the relative importance of flower visitors. Overall, the study showed that Apis was the most generalist flower visitor and a dominant core species within networks. However, although Apis visited a relatively large proportion of the flora compared to native taxa, they only intensively utilised a small proportion of available plant species. No evidence was found from the surveys to suggest that honeybees used interference competition and displaced other species. It was suggested that because specialised rare species are frequently dependent on a core of generalist taxa honeybees may play an important role for the possibilities of rare species to persist. However, perhaps the greatest threat to biodiversity and the persistence of plant-flower visitor communities in the Sacred Valley is from the destruction and fragmentation of habitats and from facilitative interactions between native and alien plants, mediated through visitation from honeybees
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorJeff Ollerton (Supervisor) & Janet Jackson (Supervisor)

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