Vertical stratification of plant-pollinator interactions in a temperate grassland

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Interactions between plants and their pollinators vary in time and space at different scales. A neglected aspect of small-scale variation of plant-pollinator interactions is the role of vertical position of flowers. We conducted a series of experiments to study vertical stratification of plant-pollinator interactions in a dry grassland. We observed flower visitors on cut inflorescences of Centaurea scabiosa and Inula salicina placed at different heights above ground in two types of surrounding vegetation: short and tall. Even at such a small-scale, we detected significant shift in total visitation rate of inflorescences in response to their vertical position. In short vegetation, inflorescences close to the ground were visited more frequently, while in high vegetation, inflorescences placed higher received more visits. Moreover, we found major differences in the composition of the pollinator community on flowers at different heights. In a second experiment, we measured flower visitation rate in inflorescences of Salvia verticillata of variable height. Overall flower visitation rate increased markedly with inflorescence height. We also detected a corresponding positive pollinator-mediated selection on increased inflorescence height using data on seed set of individual plants. Overall, our results demonstrate strong vertical stratification of plant-pollinator interactions at the scale of mere decimetres. This may be an important, albeit underappreciated, driver of plant-pollinator coevolution.
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