Authors: Lara, C.; Ornelas, J. F.
Publication: Functional Ecology
Year: 2001
Genera: Moussonia

1. Mites (Acari: Mesostigmata: Ascidae) that live and feed in the flowers of about 100 plant species are transported in the nares of hummingbirds (Trochilidae). Mites may compete with hummingbirds for nectar secreted by the host plants, and this could affect the dynamics and reproductive outcomes of the mutualism between plants and their pollinating hummingbirds.

2. Here we combined field observations and experimental manipulations to assess the role of hummingbird flower mites (Tropicoseius sp. nov.) on nectar secretion and reproductive output of protandrous Moussonia deppeana (Schlecht. & Cham.) Hanst. (Gesneriaceae) during their flowering period in a cloud forest remnant.

3. During the 4 days that the flowers of M. deppeana last, flowers were visited exclusively by hummingbirds (Lampornis amethystinus). Bud production per inflorescence peaked in December. There were few open flowers per inflorescence in November, but numbers increased as the flowering season progressed (December and January).

4. The availability of each flower phase differed over the flowering season. Staminate‐phase flowers were more abundant over the flowering season than pistillate‐phase flowers. These differences were statistically significant over time.

5. Nectar availability was reduced by up to 50% in the presence of hummingbird flower mites. Over the 4 days of observation, significantly more nectar was secreted to flowers from which mites were excluded than to flowers with no mite exclusion. The same effect was observed during flowering, but mites consumed a greater percentage of the total nectar secreted in December.

6. Significantly more nectar was secreted during the staminate phase than in the pistillate phase, independent of time and treatment.

7. A manual pollination experiment suggested that mites act like secondary pollinators in this self‐compatible, non‐autogamous plant, at least in flowers that were not pollinated manually and had no access to pollinating hummingbirds.

8. Although seed production was not reduced significantly by flower mites, our results suggest that the presence of floral mites can affect pollen transmission, as the amount of nectar available to hummingbirds was reduced drastically. This can directly affect hummingbird foraging patterns and reduce the fitness of the host plants.