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Different foraging preferences of hummingbirds on artificial and natural flowers reveal mechanisms structuring plant–pollinator interactions

Maglianesi, María A., Böhning‐Gaese, Katrin, Schleuning, Matthias, Ings, Thomas
The journal of animal ecology 2015 v.84 no.3 pp. 655-664
corolla, field experimentation, food plants, foraging, forests, hummingbirds, nectar, niches, pollinators, trophic relationships, Costa Rica
In plant–pollinator networks, the floral morphology of food plants is an important determinant of the interaction niche of pollinators. Studies on foraging preferences of pollinators combining experimental and observational approaches may help to understand the mechanisms behind patterns of interactions and niche partitioning within pollinator communities. In this study, we tested whether morphological floral traits were associated with foraging preferences of hummingbirds for artificial and natural flower types in Costa Rica. We performed field experiments with artificial feeders, differing in length and curvature of flower types, to quantify the hummingbirds’ interaction niche under unlimited nectar resources. To quantify the interaction niche under real‐world conditions of limited nectar resources, we measured foraging preferences of hummingbirds for a total of 34 plant species. Artificial feeders were visited by Eupherusa nigriventris and Phaethornis guy in the pre‐montane forest, and Lampornis calolaemus in the lower montane forest. Under experimental conditions, all three hummingbird species overlapped their interaction niches and showed a preference for the short artificial flower type over the long‐straight and the long‐curved flower types. Under natural conditions, the two co‐occurring hummingbird species preferred to feed on plant species with floral traits corresponding to their bill morphology. The short‐billed hummingbird E. nigriventris preferred to feed on short and straight flowers, whereas the long‐ and curved‐billed P. guy preferred long and curved natural flowers. The medium‐size billed species L. calolaemus preferred to feed on flowers of medium length and did not show preferences for plant species with specific corolla curvature. Our results show that floral morphological traits constrain access by short‐billed hummingbird species to nectar resources. Morphological constraints, therefore, represent one important mechanism structuring trophic networks. In addition, other factors, such as competition and differences in resource quantity or quality, define the interaction niches of consumer species in real‐world communities, enforcing patterns of niche segregation between co‐occurring consumer species. This suggests that experimental studies are needed to disentangle effects of morphological constraints from those of competition for resources in plant–pollinator interactions and other types of trophic interactions.