The Pollination Ecology of an Assemblage of Grassland Asclepiads in South Africa
AbstractAbstract The KwaZulu‐Natal region of South Africa hosts a large diversity of asclepiads (Apocynaceae: Asclepiadoideae), many of which are endemic to the area. The asclepiads are of particular interest because of their characteristically highly evolved floral morphology. During 3 months of fieldwork (November 2000 to January 2001) the flower visitors and pollinators to an assemblage of nine asclepiads at an upland grassland site were studied. These observations were augmented by laboratory studies of flower morphology (including scanning electron microscopy) and flower colour (using a spectrometer). Two of the specialized pollination systems that were documented are new to the asclepiads: fruit chafer pollination and pompilid wasp pollination. The latter is almost unique in the angiosperms. Taxa possessing these specific pollination systems cluster together in multidimensional phenotype space, suggesting that there has been convergent evolution in response to similar selection to attract identical pollinators. Pollination niche breadth varied from the very specialized species, with only one pollinator, to the more generalized, with up to ten pollinators. Pollinator sharing by the specialized taxa does not appear to have resulted in niche differentiation in terms of the temporal or spatial dimensions, or with regards to placement of pollinaria. Nestedness analysis of the data set showed that there was predictability and structure to the pattern of plant‐pollinator interactions, with generalist insects visiting specialized plants and vice versa. The research has shown that there is still much to be learned about plant–pollinator interactions in areas of high plant diversity such as South Africa.