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Does pollination limit tolerance to browsing in Ipomopsis aggregata?

TitleDoes pollination limit tolerance to browsing in Ipomopsis aggregata?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsSharaf, KE, Price, MV
Page range396-404
Call Number766QM

Ungulate browsing of flowering stalks of the semelparous herb Ipomopsis aggregata leads to regrowth of lateral inflorescences, a response that has been reported to yield overcompensation in some cases (browsed plants with higher reproductive success than unbrowsed), but undercompensation in others. Little is known about the mechanisms that cause such variable tolerance to herbivory. We explored one possible mechanism--variation in effects of browsing on pollination--by clipping I. aggregata inflorescences to mimic browsing, observing subsequent visits by pollinators and nectar-robbers, and adding pollen by hand to flowers of some clipped and unclipped plants. Clipping reduced floral display size and increased inflorescence branching, but neither humming-birds, the primary pollinators, nor nectar-robbing bumblebees showed any preference for unclipped versus clipped plants. Clipping delayed flowering; this shift in phenology caused clipped plants to miss the peak of hummingbird activity and to have lower per-flower visitation rates than unclipped controls in one year, but to have greater overlap with birds and higher visitation rates in the subsequent year. In three sites and 2 years, clipped plants exposed to natural pollination suffered extreme undercompensation, producing on average only 16% as many seeds as unclipped controls. This was not directly attributable to clipping effects on pollination, however, because clipped plants were unable to increase fecundity when provided with supplemental pollen by hand. Taken altogether, our results suggest that compensation was constrained less by indirect effects of browsing on pollination than by its direct impacts on resource availability and hence on the ability of plants to regrow lost inflorescence tissue and to fill seeds. Exploring the physiological and developmental processes involved in regrowth of inflorescences and provisioning of seeds is a promising future direction for research designed to understand variation in browsing tolerance.