Category Archives: Brazil

The integration of alien plants in mutualistic plant–hummingbird networks – a new study by Maruyama et al. (2016)

The collaborations with researchers in Brazil and Denmark in which I’ve been involved in recent years, focused particularly on hummingbirds and networks of plant pollinator interactions, have been very productive, most recently seen in a study of the effects of hummingbird feeders on diversity and abundance of the birds.

This collaboration continues with a new study that has just been published in the journal Diversity and Distributions which deals with the way in which non-native plant species are exploited by assemblages of hummingbirds in the New World.  Here’s the abstract:


Aim:  To investigate the role of alien plants in mutualistic plant–hummingbird networks, assessing the importance of species traits, floral abundance and insularity on alien plant integration.

Location: Mainland and insular Americas.

Methods: We used species-level network indices to assess the role of alien plants in 21 quantitative plant–hummingbird networks where alien plants occur. We then evaluated whether plant traits, including previous adaptations to bird pollination, and insularity predict these network roles. Additionally, for a subset of networks for which floral abundance data were available, we tested whether this relates to network roles. Finally, we tested the association between hummingbird traits and the probability of interaction with alien plants across the networks.

Results: Within the 21 networks, we identified 32 alien plant species and 352 native plant species. On average, alien plant species attracted more hummingbird species (i.e. aliens had a higher degree) and had a higher proportion of interactions across their hummingbird visitors than native plants (i.e. aliens had a higher species strength). At the same time, an average alien plant was visited more exclusively by certain hummingbird species (i.e. had a higher level of complementary specialization). Large alien plants and those occurring on islands had more evenly distributed interactions, thereby acting as connectors. Other evaluated plant traits and floral abundance were unimportant predictors of network roles. Short-billed hummingbirds had higher probability of including alien plants in their interactions than long-billed species.

Main conclusions: Once incorporated into plant-hummingbird networks, alien plants appear strongly integrated and, thus, may have a large influence on network dynamics. Plant traits and floral abundance were generally poor predictors of how well alien species are integrated. Short-billed hummingbirds, often characterized as functionally generalized pollinators, facilitate the integration of alien plants. Our results show that plant–hummingbird networks are open for invasion.


The full reference is: Maruyama, P.K. et al. (2016) The integration of alien plants in mutualistic plant–hummingbird networks across the Americas: the importance of species traits and insularity.  Diversity and Distributions (in press).

Happy to send a PDF to anyone who would like one.

Pollinators and pollination – something for the weekend #9

The latest in an (ir)regular series of posts to biodiversity-related* items that have caught my attention during the past few weeks; this one’s focused on pollinators and pollination because there’s been so much emerging on this recently it’s been impossible to decide what to write more fully about!


Feel free to recommend links that have caught your eye.

*Disclaimer: may sometimes contain non-biodiversity-related items.

SCAPE day 3 – science on a Sunday

Last night I added a new edible plant family to my life list – Cornaceae – courtesy of the ever-hospitable Marcin Zych and his home-made fruit liqueurs. The one he opened after dinner was made from the fruit of edible dogwood (Cornus mas) and had been maturing for five years.  It was sour but delicious, and very, very strong.  That’s my first new addition to the list since my Brazil trip back in in November 2013.  One day I will post an annotated list of the biodiversity of plant families I’ve consumed….but not tonight, it’s the end of a tiring final day of the SCAPE conference.

To end the meeting this morning there was a short session of three talks from Klaus Lunau’s sensory ecology group.  Klaus started the proceedings with a talk about the role of UV-absorbent dark central “bull’s eyes” in the middle of flowers and compound inflorescences.  He concluded that, despite their near mythological status, UV patterns were perhaps no more important than patterns absorbing at other wavelengths and presented some interesting experimental data to support the argument.  Over breakfast Klaus and I had discussed the absence of difficult questions at the conference; he felt people were being a little too polite.  So I asked him a hard one – whether his findings held up for male bees which don’t collect pollen.  He confessed that he’d not tested them and agreed that it would be worth doing: hope he does, will be an interesting test.

Klaus was followed by Saskia Wilmsen who showed us the results of some elegant experiments using artificial “flowers” with different shaped epidermal cells (flat, conical, etc.)  These different surfaces have distinctive optical properties in different light conditions, and bees behave in slightly different ways, accordingly.  A very cool reminder that as we move to ever finer scales in pollination ecology, from macro biogeographical and community questions, to micro surveys, the layers of complexity just go on increasing.

This latter point was reinforced by the final presentation of the meeting, which was Sebastien Kothe discussing the functional role of the spines possessed by pollen in some plant families, especially Malvaceae.  He presented compelling evidence that these spines have evolved in order to reduce their attractiveness to pollen collecting bees.  The spines render the pollen hydrophobic meaning that the bees have to use much more nectar to bind it into the pollen baskets.  It would be interesting to track the evolution of this echinaceous pollen through the fossil record and to assess whether its appearance coincides with the evolution of particular bee groups.

And with that, the 29th SCAPE meeting was finished except for the usual hugs and goodbyes and promises to meet up again in 12 months time, probably inside the Arctic Circle: it looks as though the 30th meeting will be held at the field station at Abisko.

The rest of Sunday was spent visiting the botanic garden and the art museum in Aarhus, both to be recommended if you have a chance to visit.  It’s now 8.15pm and I’m sat at Billund Airport with a large glass of Carlsberg, my first of the trip. It’s been a great meeting and I look forward to repeating it next year, and interacting with such a passionate group of scientists.  Over and out from SCAPE.

How do artificial nectar feeders affect hummingbird abundance and pollination of nearby plants? A new study in the Journal of Ornithology

Hummingbirds on feeds in Brazil

Back in November 2013, during my research and teaching trip to Brazil, I discussed an amazing garden that we visited in which the owner had set up around a dozen hummingbird feeders that were attracting hundreds of individual birds from over 20 species.  As I mentioned, one of the owner’s concerns was that by feeding the birds he might be negatively affecting the reproduction of hummingbird-pollinated plants in the surrounding forest.  I thought it unlikely but there have been very few tests of this idea, and none in that part of South America.

After I left, a Master’s student called Jesper Sonne, based at the Center for Macroecology and Climate in Copenhagen, worked with my Brazilian and Danish colleagues on collecting data to address this question.  Between us we analysed and wrote up the results, and have recently published the paper in the Journal of Ornithology under the title “Spatial effects of artificial feeders on hummingbird abundance, floral visitation and pollen deposition“.

The abstract is below and if anyone wants a PDF, please drop me a line.  But the take home message is that although these feeders have a significant local effect on hummingbird abundance, there’s no evidence that they affect plant reproduction in the vicinity.  It’s nice when predictions prove correct….



Providing hummingbirds with artificial feeders containing sugar solution is common practice throughout the Americas. Although feeders can affect hummingbird foraging behavior and abundance, it is poorly understood how far this effect may extend. Moreover, it remains debated whether nectar-feeders have a negative impact on hummingbird-pollinated plants by reducing flower visitation rates and pollen transfer close to the feeders. Here, we investigated the effects of distance to nectar-feeders on a local hummingbird assemblage and the pollination of Psychotria nuda (Rubiaceae), a hummingbird-pollinated plant endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. At increasing distance (0–1000 m) from a feeding-station, where hummingbirds have been fed continuously for the past 13 years, we quantified hummingbird abundance, and rates of flower visitation and pollen deposition on P. nuda. We found that hummingbird abundance was unrelated to distance from the feeders beyond ca. 75 m, but increased steeply closer to the feeders; the only exception was the small hummingbird Phaethornis ruber, which remained absent from the feeders. Plants of P. nuda within ca.125 m from the feeders received increasingly more visits, coinciding with the higher hummingbird abundance, whereas visitation rate beyond 125 m showed no distance-related trend. Despite this, pollen deposition was not associated with distance from the feeders. Our findings illustrate that artificial nectar-feeders may locally increase hummingbird abundance, and possibly affect species composition and pollination redundancy, without necessarily having a disruptive effect on pollination services and plants’ reproductive fitness. This may apply not only to hummingbirds, but also to other animal pollinators.

Hummingbirds on feeds in Brazil 2