Main content area

Variation in the reproductive performance of the Trollius–Chiastocheta mutualism at the edge of its range in north-east Germany

Lemke, Tristan, Porembski, Stefan
Oecologia 2013 v.172 no.2 pp. 437-447
Chiastocheta, Trollius europaeus, agricultural land, field experimentation, flowers, host plants, land use, larvae, lowlands, mutualism, pollen, pollination, pollinators, population size, predation, predators, progeny, reproductive performance, seed set, seeds, Germany
Empirical studies into obligate pollination mutualisms which elucidate the variation in reproductive performance of shrinking populations within human-altered environments are rare. This study focuses on the obligate pollination mutualism between Trollius europaeus (Ranunculaceae) and fly species of the genus Chiastocheta which act both as the plant’s main pollinators and as predators in that their larvae eat a fraction of the developing seeds. The study area is situated in the lowlands of north-east Germany. Many populations of T. europaeus have become comparatively small and scattered in this region as a consequence of agricultural land use intensification. We studied the plant’s reproductive fitness in populations ranging in size from 7 to 12,000 flowers. In a field experiment, we applied four pollination treatments and also recorded fly density in 28 natural T. europaeus populations. The fitness of the offspring from 19 populations was studied in a common garden experiment. In both approaches, a reduction in the fitness of small host plant populations could be demonstrated. Fitness loss can be put down to the quantitative and qualitative limitation of pollen caused by inbreeding and the negative feedback on relative seed set caused by the reduced ability of small plant populations to support a sufficiently large fly population. Although increases in fly density are associated with rising predation costs, the plant species’ net benefit is a positive function of its population size. Our study highlights the reproductive variability of the Trollius–Chiastocheta interaction along a population size gradient in a marginal region of its range, thus contributing to the understanding of the overall variability of this mutualism.