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What makes a good pollinator? When plants are visited by many pollinators (most plants are), it’s sometimes hard to tell which pollinators are the most important for the plant. Which pollinators influence the evolution of the plant’s floral traits (for example, the shape and color of flowers, or the type of reward offered to pollinators)? For rare plants which we are trying to conserve, which pollinators are most important in keeping the plant going? For crop species, which pollinators should we be promoting for maximum crop yield?
There are many different ways to evaluate pollinators, and it’s unclear which methods are best. As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I am working on ways to evaluate pollinators; to do so, I’m working with plants that are visited by many different insect species. Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana have many pollinators, and their pollinators differ in many important ways. In order to find out more about how these different pollinators influence the reproduction of these plants, I need to figure out what pollinators are visiting, and where.
So far in my fieldwork, I have noticed some interesting differences in the pollinator communities that visit Claytonia virginica. In a few sites in North Carolina, I see lots of visitation by bee flies (Bombyliidae). In many other locations, however, it seems that the bee Andrena erigeniae is the dominant visitor. I’m really interested to see how often these pollinators (and others!) are visiting throughout Claytonia‘s range. That’s where you come in! By helping with some basic pollinator observations, you can help me figure out what pollinators are visiting, and how often, throughout the entire range. These data will not only help determine the best way to evaluate pollinators, but add to our understanding of what determines the composition of pollinator communities.