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Anthropod-Plant Interactions


Springer Netherlands

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Among associations of plants and their pollinating bees, mutually specialized pairings are rare. Typically, either pollen specialist (oligolectic) bees are joined by polylectic bees in a flowering species’ pollinator guild, or specialized flowers are pollinated by one or more polylectic bees. The bee Andrena astragali is a narrow oligolege, collecting pollen solely from two nearly identical species of death camas (Toxicoscordion, formerly Zigadenus). Neurotoxic alkaloids of these plants are implicated in sheep and honey bee poisoning. In this study, T. paniculatum, T. venenosum and co-flowering forbs were sampled for bees at 15 sites along a 900-km-long east–west transect across the northern Great Basin plus an altitudinal gradient in northern Utah’s Bear River Range. Only A. astragali bees were regularly seen visiting flowering panicles of these Toxicoscordion. In turn, this bee was never among the 170 bee species caught at 17 species of other prevalent co-occurring wildflowers in the same five state region (38,000 plants surveyed). Our field pollination experiments show that T. paniculatum is primarily an outcrosser dependent on pollinator visitation for most capsule and seed set. Thus, both A. astragali and two sister species of Toxicoscordion are narrowly specialized and co-dependent on each other for reproduction, illustrating a rare case of obligate mutual specialization in bee–plant interactions.

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