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Curr Zool. 2013;59(3):418-426.

Physiological effects of climate warming on flowering plants and insect pollinators and potential consequences for their interactions.

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Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 USA.


Growing concern about the influence of climate change on flowering plants, pollinators, and the mutualistic interactions between them has led to a recent surge in research. Much of this research has addressed the consequences of warming for phenological and distributional shifts. In contrast, relatively little is known about the physiological responses of plants and insect pollinators to climate warming and, in particular, how these responses might affect plant-pollinator interactions. Here, we summarize the direct physiological effects of temperature on flowering plants and pollinating insects to highlight ways in which plant and pollinator responses could affect floral resources for pollinators, and pollination success for plants, respectively. We also consider the overall effects of these responses on plant-pollinator interaction networks. Plant responses to warming, which include altered flower, nectar, and pollen production, could modify floral resource availability and reproductive output of pollinating insects. Similarly, pollinator responses, such as altered foraging activity, body size, and life span, could affect patterns of pollen flow and pollination success of flowering plants. As a result, network structure could be altered as interactions are gained and lost, weakened and strengthened, even without the gain or loss of species or temporal overlap. Future research that addresses not only how plant and pollinator physiology are affected by warming but also how responses scale up to affect interactions and networks should allow us to better understand and predict the effects of climate change on this important ecosystem service.


Mutualism; Networks; Plant-pollinator interactions; Pollination; Temperature; Thermoregulation

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