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Ups and Downs in Pollinator Populations: When is there a Decline?

David Ward Roubik, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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Abstract

Plant-pollinator systems inherently possess wide variation that limits the applicability of surveys on population dynamics or diversity. Stable habitats are scarcely studied, whereas dynamics in unprotected habitats are less predictable or more compromised by exotic organisms (Apis, in the case of bee surveys). An extensively replicated, long-term study of orchid-bees (Euglossini) was made in protected tropical moist forest in Panama. Over 47,000 bees were recorded in 124 monthly censuses employing 1952 counts. No aggregate trend in abundance occurred (from 1979 to 2000), although four individual species declined, nine increased, 23 showed no change, and species richness was stable. No rare or parasitic species showed decreasing trends, while the most common of the set of bee species studied gradually declined. Biodiversity therefore increased. Recorded variability included 300% (fourfold) differences in bee abundance among years, and changes in species abundance up to 14-fold. Surveys in dry and wet seasons (N = 17 and 18 years, 29 and 31 species, respectively) indicated no numerical changes in the bee assemblage over 21 years. El-Niño climatic events led to brief increases in bee abundance. This detailed survey is deconstructed to assess sampling rigor and strategies, particularly considering the recorded local differences within a single forest.

Year-to-year shifts in bee abundance for three tropical and five temperate bee censuses were comparable. In short studies (2-4 years) and during longer studies (17-21 years), 59 species that included solitary, social, and highly social bees had mean abundances that varied by factors of 2.06 for temperate bees and 2.16 for tropical bees. “Normal” bee populations commonly halved or doubled in 1-yr intervals. Longer term data are only available for the tropics. Stochastic variation and limitations of monitoring methods suggest that minimum series of four years (i.e., three intervals) of several counts during the active season may demonstrate genuine trends. Longer term, continuous studies are still needed for meaningful insights on pollinator population shifts in nature.

Key words

ENSO, Euglossini, abundance variability, bees, census techniques, diversity, pollinators, trends, tropical- temperate comparisons
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087