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Spatiotemporal dynamics of insect pollinator communities in sagebrush steppe associated with weather and vegetation

June 23, 2021

The conservation of native insect pollinators is hampered by a lack of information about environmental factors influencing pollinator communities. We investigated how insect pollinator communities, composed of bees (Hymenoptera), butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), and flies (Diptera), are influenced by spatial and temporal aspects of the environment in sagebrush steppe shrublands. We assessed hypotheses regarding spatial autocorrelation of communities, inter-annual variability in communities, influence of elevation on timing of emergence, and influence of weather on seasonal changes in relative abundance of different pollinator taxa. We captured 27,310 insects from 6 bee families, 27 butterfly and moth families, and 3 fly families. The occurrence of insect pollinators among sampling plots was not spatially autocorrelated, indicating that insect communities may be structured by habitat variation and microclimates over relatively fine spatial scales. Pollinator familial richness, diversity, abundance, and timing of emergence were most strongly positively associated with spatiotemporal variation in minimum daily temperatures at the ground surface during the active season. Emergence timing was positively correlated with growing degree days and percent humidity, regardless of elevation. All pollinator groups varied in abundance throughout their active season, peaking in early July (bees), late July (flies), or early August (butterflies and moths). Our findings suggest that changes in nighttime temperatures, which have been steadily increasing over the last several decades as a result of climate change, may have strong effects on sagebrush steppe pollinator communities. Also, non-bee pollinators may provide particularly important pollination in this vast ecosystem during the warmest time of the year.