Rangelands – Pollination typically brings to mind an iconic story of the bee visiting the flower in a lovely meadow. And everyone benefits from this ecological cooperation. But a closer look at the process in rangelands reveals a more complex picture of competition, attraction, negotiation, and, of course, the forces of the wind.
An article in the current issue of Rangelands provides an overview of pollination, specifically in rangeland systems. It is one of several articles in the issue exploring this topic. There is a richness to plant-pollinator interactions that is lost with a simple explanation of the process. The authors seek to give a better understanding of what is to be gained and contributed by each of the players in this ecological interaction. Pollinators on rangelands provide benefits not only to plant communities, but also to wildlife, rare plant species, and crop production, while facing a variety of challenges, and should be considered when managing for rangelands.
In rangelands, most plants are pollinated by the wind carrying pollen to other plants or by one part of a plant pollinating another part of the same plant. Most grasses are wind-pollinated or self-pollinated. While this does not require a plant to attract and depend on a pollinator, it leads to less genetic diversity.
Animal-pollinated plants, on the other hand, can have offspring with increased genetic diversity when pollen from more distant plants is incorporated. Pollination affects plant population and community dynamics by altering plant abundance, population viability, and floral traits.
While plants offer pollen and nectar as payment to their animal pollinators, this is not always an advantageous exchange. Insects may take pollen when it is not beneficial to the plant by taking pollen from a part of the plant that does not provide germination or by visiting wind-pollinated species. Ants and other small insects can rob a plant of its nectar without pollinating it.
It is not just insects that perform pollination. Although insects dominate, about 200,000 different species, including bats, birds, and mice, can act as pollinators. Along with the traditional honeybee, other native bee species, beetles, flies, moths, and butterflies are the primary pollinators in rangelands.
Competition among plants to attract these pollinators has created a mixture of specialist and generalist pollinator systems. A plant might have characteristics that appeal to a specific group of pollinators, or a plant may offer something for everyone, ensuring that many animal species will visit. The shape of a flower and its color and fragrance may hold different attractions for various species.
Pollination is a fundamental part of the reproduction of many rangeland plants and plant communities, making it an important aspect of the rangeland ecosystem. Threats exist to the pollination process and, subsequently, to the well-being of the rangeland. Managers, scientists, and policy makers also have opportunities to protect the contribution of pollination to the future vitality of rangeland habitats.
Full text of the article, “An Overview of Pollination in Rangelands: Who, Why, and How,” Rangelands, Vol. 33, No. 3, June 2011, is available at http://www.srmjournals.org/doi/full/10.2111/1551-501X-33.3.4
Rangelands is a full-color publication of the Society for Range Management published six times per year. Each issue of Rangelands features scientific articles, book reviews, and society news. Additionally, readers may find youth, technology, and policy departments. The journal provides a forum for readers to get scientifically correct information in a user-friendly, non-technical format. Rangelands is intended for a wide range of individuals, including educators, students, rangeland owners and managers, researchers, and policy leaders. The journal is available online at www.srmjournals.org. To learn more about the society, please visit www.rangelands.org.
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