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Functional structure and specialization in three tropical plant–hummingbird interaction networks across an elevational gradient in Costa Rica

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Understanding causes of variation in multispecies assemblages along spatial environmental gradients is a long‐standing research topic in ecology and biogeography. Ecological networks comprising interacting species of plants and pollinators are particularly suitable for testing effects of environmental gradients on the functional structure and specialization in multispecies assemblages. In this study, we investigated patterns in functional assemblage structure and specialization of hummingbirds at the individual and species level along a tropical elevational gradient. We mist‐netted hummingbirds at three elevations in Costa Rica in seven temporally distinct sampling periods and used the pollen carried by hummingbird individuals to construct plant–hummingbird networks at each elevation. We measured four functional traits of hummingbird species and quantified different metrics of functional community structure. We tested the effect of elevation on functional metrics of hummingbird assemblages and specialization within the networks, employing the variability across sampling periods and hummingbird species to compare the respective metrics among elevations. Hummingbird species and individuals were more specialized at low and mid elevations than at the highest elevation. This pattern corresponded to a more even and over‐dispersed assemblage structure at the lower elevations throughout the year and suggests a high level of floral resource partitioning in functionally diversified communities. In contrast, an uneven and clustered functional structure of the highland assemblage across all sampling periods suggests that this assemblage was structured by environmental filtering and by niche expansion of hummingbird individuals and species at this elevation. We conclude that high degrees of specialization on specific floral resources might be crucial for the coexistence of hummingbird species in diversified lowland communities. Spatial variation in animal resource use may be an important crucial driver of spatial patterns in the functional structure of diversified species assemblages also in other types of ecological networks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2015

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