Impacts of Large Mammal Loss on Pollination Services under Changing Climates

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National Geographic Society
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Ecology and Evolution

We are in the  midst of a global extinction crisis, in which we urgently need to understand the impacts of biodiversity loss in order to halt further disruption of Earth's ecosystems. Large-bodied animals are among the most threatened, and have myriad connections to other organisms across trophic levels. Their loss can therefore have cascading effects that impact ecological communities and important ecosystem processes. Pollination, a mutualistic interaction between plants and insects, is one  such process. Pollination is critical to the persistence of plant communities worldwide and integral to the production of a third of our food supply. Prior studies have demonstrated that large mammals have strong impacts on plant communities, including changes to flowering species abundances, yet how pollination services may be changing as a result of large mammal loss remains a mystery.

We will use a large mammal exclosure experiment in Kern County, California, to explore the effects of large mammal loss on 1) flower communities, 2) insect pollinator communities and 2) pollination services. In addition, the replicated nature of TREE's experiment across a natural climate gradient will enable us to  further examine how climate change may mediate impacts of large mammal loss, by using the gradient as a proxy for future climatic changes in the  region. We anticipate large mammal loss will significantly impact pollination, and that impact will vary depending on climatic context  .