Plant-pollinator networks in fire-maintained sandhills
The pollinating insects of longleaf pine savannas likely play a central role in maintaining the high overall biodiversity for which these ecosystems are renowned, and they are also a diverse group in their own right, representing several prominent insect orders: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hymenoptera (bees and wasps), Coleoptera (beetles), and Diptera (flies). Despite their likely ecological importance, the plant-pollinator networks of longleaf pine savannas have received little study. In this multi-phase project, we are investigating the relationships between flowering plants, pollinators, prescribed fire regimes, and vegetation structures (i.e. tree canopy cover, groundlayer herbaceous cover). These parameters are driven by management actions over which we have substantial control, for example by altering the frequency and seasonality of prescribed fire or applying hardwood removal treatments. Such actions greatly affect pollinator habitat, most notably by influencing the abundance and diversity of floral resources throughout the year. The project will provide baseline data on sandhill plant-pollinator networks, as well as helping us to understand how our prescribed fire and land management programs affect the diversity and abundance of pollinators on public lands.