Removing flowers of a generalist plant changes pollinator visitation, composition, and interaction network structure

Justin A. Bain*, Rachel G. Dickson, Andrea M. Gruver, Paul J. CaraDonna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pollination is essential for ecosystem functioning, yet our understanding of the empirical consequences of species loss for plant–pollinator interactions remains limited. It is hypothesized that the loss of abundant and generalized (well-connected) species from a pollination network will have a large effect on the remaining species and their interactions. However, to date, relatively few studies have experimentally removed species from their natural setting to address this hypothesis. We investigated the consequences of losing an abundant, generalist native species from a series of plant–pollinator networks by experimentally removing the flowers of Helianthella quinquenervis (Asteraceae) from half of a series of 10 paired plots (15 m diameter) within a subalpine ecosystem. We then asked how the localized loss of this species influenced patterns of pollinator visitation, floral visitor composition, and interaction network structure. The experimental removal of Helianthella flowers led to an overall decline in plot-level pollinator visitation rates and shifts in pollinator composition. Species-level responses to floral removal differed between the two other abundant, co-flowering plants in our experiment: Potentilla pulcherrima received higher visitation rates, whereas Erigeron speciosus visitation rates did not change. Experimental floral removal altered the structural properties of the localized plant–pollinator networks such that they were more specialized, less nested, and less robust to further species loss. Such changes to interaction network structure were consistently driven more by species turnover than by interaction rewiring. Our findings suggest that the local loss of an abundant, well-linked, generalist plant can bring about diverse responses within intact pollination networks, including potential competitive and facilitative effects for individual species, changes to network structure that may render them more sensitive to future change, but also numerous changes to interactions that may also suggest flexibility in response to species loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4154
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
  • disturbance
  • floral resources
  • networks
  • pollination
  • species interactions
  • visitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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