Plant Diversity ›› 2023, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (04): 446-455.DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2023.03.006

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Does pollinator dependence decrease along elevational gradients?

Yue-Wen Xua, Lu Suna, Rong Maa,b, Yong-Qian Gaoc, Hang Suna, Bo Songa   

  1. a. CAS Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia/Yunnan Key Laboratory for Integrative Conservation of Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650201, China;
    b. College of Life Sciences, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China;
    c. Yunnan Forestry Technological College, Kunming 650224, China
  • Received:2023-01-31 Revised:2023-03-15 Online:2023-07-25 Published:2023-08-21
  • Contact: Hang Sun,;Bo Song,
  • Supported by:
    This work was supported by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research program (2019QZKK0502), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20050203), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770249 and 32071669), the Young Academic and Technical Leader Raising Foundation of Yunnan Province (2017HB062), the Ten-thousand Talents Program of Yunnan Province (YNWR-QNBJ-2018-208), and the Yunnan Innovation Team Project (202305AS350004).

Abstract: Plants have long been thought to be less dependent on pollinators for seed production at higher elevations due to adverse pollination environments. However, recent research has yet to consistently support the generality of this expectation. In this study, we asked whether pollinator dependence decreases along an elevational gradient and how it varies with various reproductive traits. To answer these questions, we quantified pollinator–plant associations and various reproductive traits for 112 flowering plants spanning a large elevational gradient (990–4260 m a.s.l.) in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. We found that flowering plants in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau region are highly dependent on pollinators for seed production (76.2% of seed production was contributed by animal pollinators and 44.6% of plants would produce no seed without pollinator visitation). Contrary to our expectation, there was no significant elevational gradient in pollinator dependence index. Although the pollinator dependence index was not significantly correlated with pollen limitation, flower size, floral longevity, or reward type, it was correlated with compatibility status and flowering time. These findings indicate that pollinator dependence does not decrease along an elevational gradient in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our study also highlights the severe vulnerability of flowering plant seed production to pollinator declines under global change in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau region, particularly for early-flowering or self-incompatible plants growing at higher elevations (e.g., subnival belt).

Key words: Global change, Pollen limitation, Pollinator decline, Qinghai-Tibet plateau, Seed production