Resistance and resilience of a flower-visitor network to a severe hurricane in an insular tropical beach dune system
AdvisorAckerman, James D.
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Plant-pollinator interactions provide a crucial ecosystem service for which many depend upon. These interactions can be threatened by many different anthropogenic and natural disturbances. While most studies on plant-pollinator interactions have focused on the anthropogenic threats including effects of climate change, fewer studies have evaluated the effects of severe natural disturbances. Hurricanes in the tropics are a natural occurrence that can be catastrophic to communities and ecosystem services. It is common for hurricanes to be responsible for the loss of insect assemblages, which are the most abundant group of pollinators. Here I evaluate how the impact of a category 4 hurricane (Hurricane María) influenced the interactions of plants and their flower visitors in a coastal sand dune ecosystem in Puerto Rico. I used ecological networks and data collected over a five-year period (2015-2019) to assess the effects of the large atmospheric disturbance that passed through in September 2017. After the hurricane, I found a decrease in species abundance and a lower number of interactions, but an increase in species richness. Functional groups of flower visitors responded differently but in general bees were impacted negatively compared to butterflies, flies, and wasps. Overall network had a high dependence on the non-indigenous Apis mellifera, but after the hurricane the abundance of the species decreased making it a more generalized network. Other network metrics such as nestedness, connectance, and robustness for plants and flower visitors were consistent across years. Thus, the plant-flower visitor network in the coastal sand dunes of Puerto Rico was largely resistant and resilient against a severe hurricane induced perturbation.