Plant-Pollinator Network Dynamics of the Little Fork Shale Barren
“Plant-Pollinator Network Dynamics of the Little Fork Shale Barren”
A (Virtual) Lunchtime Lecture by Sarah Brown, USGS
USGS Biological Field Technician and recent James Madison University graduate student Sarah Brown will discuss her Masters research work on the ecology of shale barrens in Sugar Grove, West Virginia. You can follow Sarah online at @SarahNBrown4 and through LinkedIn.
Abstract—Shale barrens are steep sloping mountainside ecosystems characterized by rocky Upper Devonian age shale substrate, high light, and low water availability. They form an array of biogeographical “islands” throughout Mid-Appalachia whose niche dynamics, response to disturbance, and pollination ecology remain to be investigated. Using network analysis, this project addressed three objectives to fill gaps in shale barren pollination ecology. i) Compared vegetative species composition, richness, diversity, and evenness to a descriptive vegetation study completed at the same site 27 years prior. ii) Outlined the topology of plant-pollinator networks including identifying phenologically accurate networks, the architecture of such networks, and identifying plant species network hubs and key pollinators groups. iii) Examined the scale of within-season interaction variation, whether that variation is reflective of fluctuations in pollinator activity, and that variation’s relationship to changes in weather conditions. Plant and pollinator data were collected via pollinator observation and flowering inventory surveys conducted on within 10-day monitoring periods through the full growing season of Little Fork Shale Barren (Pendleton Co., West Virginia). General vegetation surveys occurred in the late summer to late fall at the same site. Comparisons between the current vegetation community and results from a 1994 survey of the site showed a significant increase in community species richness and diversity. Analysis of large scale interaction data revealed the presence of diverse interaction networks with degree distributions, connectances, and levels of nestedness comparable to networks in other ecosystems. Fine scale interaction data showed the system experiences high within-season interaction turnover dictated by interaction rewiring. Simulation models confirmed that species abundance and phenology constrain interaction turnover and interaction rewiring. Linear regression analysis of weather conditions and pollinator activity found that median temperature has the strongest relationship with greater pollinator activity occurring at higher median temperatures. Our findings exposed the depth and dynamics of biodiversity and ecological function present in a superficially understood “barren” ecosystem.
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