Bat-plant pollination interactions in southern Thailand
Dudash, Michele R
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The overwhelming majority of flowering plant species depend on animals for pollination, and such pollinators are important for the reproductive success of many economically and environmentally important plant species. Yet pollinators in the Old World tropics are relatively understudied, particularly paleotropical nectarivorous bats (Pteropodidae), and much is unknown about their interactions with night-blooming plant species. To better understand these bat-plant pollination interactions, I conducted fieldwork in southern Thailand for a total of 20 months, spread across three years. I examined the foraging times of pteropodid bat species (Chapter 1), and found that strictly nectarivorous species foraged earlier, and for a shorter duration, than primarily frugivorous species. I also studied year-long foraging patterns of pteropodid bats to determine how different species track floral resources across seasons (Chapter 2). Larger species capable of flying long distances switched diets seasonally to forage on the most abundant floral species, while smaller species foraged throughout the year on nearby plant species that were low-rewarding but highly reliable. To determine which pteropodid species are potentially important pollinators, I quantified the frequency and effectiveness of their visits to six common bat-pollinated plant taxa for an entire year (Chapter 3). The three strictly nectarivorous species were responsible for almost all pollination, but pollinator importance of each bat species varied across plant species. I further examined the long-term reliability of these pollinators (Chapter 4), and found that pollinator importance values were consistent across the three study years. Lastly, I explored mechanisms that reduce interspecific pollen transfer among bat-pollinated plants, despite having shared pollinators. Using a flight cage experiment, I demonstrated that these plant species deposit pollen on different areas of the bat’s body (mechanical partitioning), resulting in greater pollen transfer between conspecific flowers than heterospecific flowers (Chapter 5). Additionally, while I observed ecological and phenological overlap among flowering plant species, pollinators exhibited high floral constancy within a night, resulting in strong ethological separation (Chapter 6). Collectively, these findings illustrate the importance of understudied Old World bat pollinators within a mixed agricultural-forest system, and their strong, interdependent interactions with bat-pollinated plant species within a night, across seasons, and across years.