Competition for sex is brutal in biodiversity hotspots

Good pollinators wanted

Mother Nature could use a few more good pollinators, especially in species-rich biodiversity hotspots, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS online, Jan. 16, 2006).

Tiffany Knight

“Biodiversity hotspots, such as tropical rainforests, are a global resource — they are home to many of the known plants used for medicine and may be a source for future cures, and they absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide and generate volumes of clean oxygen. Our research suggests that plants in these areas are also very fragile. They already suffer from low pollen receipt, and future perturbations of the habitat may exacerbate the situation. ”

Habitat fragmentation a factor

According to Knight, there is no doubt that a reduced number of pollinating species — bees, flies, birds, even bats — is one contributor to pollen limitation. But it’s not the only one. Habitat fragmentation is a proven cause of pollen limitation, as well as development.

“The concern is that we are losing habitat really rapidly globally, especially in tropical areas, and losing pollinators there as well,” Knight said. “We show that these areas are sensitive to pollen limitation just because they are diverse. Any perturbation in the tropical areas — and there are lots right now — is going to hurt the situation even more than we think and perhaps drive certain species to extinction.”

“These findings have global implications given the importance of biodiversity hotspots for medicine, food, nutrient cycling, and alternative resources for pollinators of domesticated crops world wide,” said collaborator Tia-Lynn Ashman, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh.

Vamosi, Knight and collaborators Janette A. Steets of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Susan J. Mazer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Martin Burd of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and Ashman, published their results in the Jan.16, 2006 online issue of PNAS. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.