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Forest Fragmentation, Pollination, and Plant Reproduction in a Chaco Dry Forest, Argentina

Aizen, Marcelo A., Feinsinger, Peter
Ecology 1994 v.75 no.2 pp. 330-351
Africanized honey bees, Capparaceae, Parkinsonia, Prosopis nigra, breeding, cattle, community health, dry forests, fruit set, grazing, habitat fragmentation, pollen, pollen tubes, pollination, pollinators, saplings, seed set, seedlings, species recruitment, stigma, trampling damage, Argentina
In a fragmented, dry subtropical forest in northwestern Argentina, we compared pollination levels, fruit set, and seed set among small (<1 ha) forest fragments, large (>2 ha) fragments, and continuous forest in 16 plant species representing a wide range of pollination systems, breeding systems, and growth forms. For three species, Prosopis nigra (Mimosoideae), Cercidium australe (Caesalpinoideae), and Atamisquea emarginata (Capparaceae), the three treatments were replicated across four sites; we achieved less replication for other species. Because comparisons between forest and fragment populations for different species took place in different sites, however, by treating all 6 species as a unit we lessened the potential bias of confounding site effects and could evaluate the overall impact of fragmentation. Significant or marginal (P < .10) fragmentation—related declines in number of pollen tubes per style, fruit set, and seed set occurred in 9 of 16, 5 of 15, and 3 of 14 species, respectively. Overall, significant or nonsignificant declines occurred in 81% (pollen tubes), 73% (fruit set), and 79% (seed set) of the species. In all cases these proportions were greater (P < .06) than the null binomial expectation of a 1:1 ratio of increases to decreases. Breeding system did not explain sensitivity to fragmentation: the magnitudes of declines in pollen tubes, fruit set, and seed set were virtually indistinguishable between self—compatible and self—incompatible species. At least 4 of the 10 self—incompatible species, however, were heavily visited in small fragments by Africanized honey bees, which may have compensated for a decline in visits by native pollinators. The exact nature of responses varied among plant species. In some, the absolute quantity of pollen grains transferred to stigmas decreased with fragmentation, and sometimes this was reflected in reduced fruit or seed set. In Cercidium, Prosopis, and Atamisquea, the quality of the grains transferred apparently changed: number of pollen tubes produced per pollen grain on the stigma declined with increasing fragmentation, and at least in the latter two species seed production declined as well. Overall, levels of pollination and seed production undoubtedly integrated many idiosyncratic effects of fragmentation on particular plant and animal populations, and indicated that “community health” of fragments suffered in comparison with that of continuous forest. Median decreases in pollination levels and seed output from forest to fragments approached 20%. The impact of these declines on plant recruitment is less clear, however, because cattle grazing and trampling of seedlings and saplings in fragments may constitute a much more serious short—term conservation problem.