Pollinator networks in nature

November 23rd, 2022

A close -up view of a single yellow daisy like flower with a fly sitting in the middle of it.

The team confirmed flies are important pollinators of alpine flowers. Image: Liz Milla

Insect pollinators are just as important for native flowers as they are for crops. We’re unveiling the hidden pollinator networks in the Australian alps.

Our pollination researchers spent a week on a field trip at Charlotte Pass in Kosciuszko National Park during December 2017. They set up 12 study plots between 1800 and 1946 metres above sea level in three different habitats: alpine herbfield, subalpine woodland and alpine heath.

Dr Francisco Encinas-Viso, an ecologist with our Environomics FSP, led the project.

“Insect pollinators from many different groups visit alpine flowers, including bees, butterflies, beetles and flies,” Francisco said.

“During our fieldwork, we observed insects visiting flowers and we also collected 154 insect specimens for pollen DNA metabarcoding. Back in the lab, we compared pollinator networks using both approaches, human observers versus pollen DNA metabarcoding.

“We expected the networks built using pollen DNA metabarcoding to be more diverse than observation networks. And this is what we found. Pollen DNA metabarcoding also detected many cryptic plant species that we didn’t know were present.

“Overall, we found that alpine pollination networks are very generalised and are influenced by habitat and microclimate,” he said.

You can read more details on this research in the recently published study, Pollen DNA metabarcoding reveals cryptic diversity and high spatial turnover in alpine plant–pollinator networks.