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Structure of a plant–flower-visitor network in the high-altitude sub-alpine desert of Tenerife, Canary Islands

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Confined within a volcanic caldera at 2000 m a.s.l., the sub-alpine desert of Tenerife, Canary Islands, harbors a distinct biota. At this altitude the climate is harsh and the growing season short. Hence, plant and animal communities, constituting the sub-alpine plant–flower-visitor network, are clearly delimited, both spatially and temporally. We investigated species composition and interaction structure of this system. A total of 11 plant species (91% endemics) and 37 flower-visiting animal species (62% endemics) formed 108 interactions. Numbers of interactions among species varied ten-fold within both plant and animal communities. Generalization level of a species was positively correlated with its local abundance. Two separate network analyses revealed a significantly nested structure. In relation to a plant–flower-visitor system, nestedness implies that specialized species (animals or plants) interact with a subset of the species pool visiting (animals) or being visited (plants) by more generalized species. Therefore, specialized, locally rare plants tend to be visited by generalized, locally abundant animals, and specialized, locally rare animals tend to utilize generalized, locally abundant food plants. Such patterns could have implications for conservation of the sub-alpine network, and stress the importance of preserving not only rare species, but also the more abundant ones, which may be key food resources or pollinators in the plant–flower-visitor network.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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