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Drought stress changes floral scent and reduces pollinator visitation

Date: September 09, 2015


Background

capturing floral scents
Floral scents are captured by enclosing flowers in clear plastic cups and pulling air out of the cups through an odor trap

Pollinators assist 80 percent of flowering plants in their reproduction, which accounts for much of the food ingested by humans and wildlife. The worldwide decline in pollinators highlights the importance of understanding factors affecting plant-pollinator interactions. We examined how drought, which is predicted to increase in the Western United States due to climate change, affected floral odors and pollinator attraction in four plant species in Montana.

Research

Plant-pollinator interactions are essential to the health of natural ecosystems and much of the human diet depends on animal pollination. However, many pollinators are in decline and are being threatened by environmental change.
 

Drought stress reduced pollinator visitation to three of the four plant species and altered floral scent in all four plant species we studied in Montana. For example, drought-stressed bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) lacked certain floral odors and received only one-quarter of the pollinator visits when compared to well-watered plants. Drought also negatively affected pollinator visitation to hairy golden aster (Heterotheca villosa) and silverleaf phacelia (Phacelia hastata).

A metallic green bee visits flowers of hairy false goldenaster
A metallic green bee (Agapostemon sp.) visits flowers of hairy false goldenaster (Heterotheca villosa)

Our findings suggest that some plants and pollinators will be negatively affected if the frequency and severity of droughts increase due to climate change. Knowledge about how drought will affect pollination and which plants are most likely to be affected is needed to successfully manage and restore native ecosystems.

Key findings

  • Three of the four plant species studies showed reduced pollinator visitation and all four had altered floral scents due to stress from drought.
  • Findings suggest that some plants and pollinators will be negatively affected if the frequency and severity of droughts increase due to climate change.

 

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Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Dr. Laura Burkle - Montana State University
Research Location: 
Montana