2018-19 Global Change Fellow
Statement of purpose:
Most plants depend on insects for sexual reproduction. Decreased pollinator visitation can result in reduced fruit or seed set, potentially limiting abundance and population growth for plant species. This is particularly concerning in the case of rare plants, where restricted ranges and disjointed populations can result in disrupted plant-pollinator interactions. Climate change and habitat fragmentation are expected to further interrupt plant-pollinator interactions. Therefore, there is an increasing need to understand the role of pollinators to the persistence of rare plants. Despite this, the pollination ecology of many rare plants remains unknown. In addition, it is unclear how shifting disturbance regimes could affect interactions between rare plants and their pollinator communities. In the longleaf pine ecosystems of the southeastern United States, many plants require frequent fires to decrease light competition, increase nutrient availability, and induce germination. Fire can also shape the abundance and diversity of pollinator communities. As the intensity and frequency of fire is projected to be altered by climate change, it is crucial to be able to predict how fire-dependent rare plants and their pollinators in these ecosystems will be consequently influenced.
Description of research:
My doctoral research focuses on the pollination ecology of Venus flytrap, a unique carnivorous plant endemic only to the Coastal Plain of North and South Carolina. Venus flytrap is a rare, fire-dependent species threatened by development, poaching, and fire suppression. In a past study, we found that Venus flytrap is pollen limited, meaning that it requires adequate pollination for increased seed set. We also found that the richness of its pollinator communities changes with increasing time post-fire. To determine which pollinators are a management priority for Venus flytrap, my future research will identify which flower visitors are its most effective pollinators. I will also describe other key aspects of its pollination biology in sites of differing fire history. In addition, I am interested in identifying the mechanisms by which Venus flytrap partitions its pollinator and prey communities. By examining the pollination ecology of this rare plant, I aim to shed more light on the role of pollinators to plant conservation. This research aligns with DOI Priority 1. Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt.
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