Global patterns of interaction specialization in bird-flower networks

Aim Among the world's three major nectar-feeding bird taxa, hummingbirds are the most phenotypically specialized for nectarivory, followed by sunbirds, while the honeyeaters are the least phenotypically specialized taxa. We tested whether this phenotypic specialization gradient is also found in the interaction patterns with their floral resources. Location Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania/Australia. Methods We compiled interaction networks between birds and floral resources for 79 hummingbird, nine sunbird and 33 honeyeater communities. Interaction specialization was quantified through connectance (C), complementary specialization (H-2), binary (Q(B)) and weighted modularity (Q), with both observed and null-model corrected values. We compared interaction specialization among the three types of bird-flower communities, both independently and while controlling for potential confounding variables, such as plant species richness, asymmetry, latitude, insularity, topography, sampling methods and intensity. Results Hummingbird-flower networks were more specialized than honeyeater-flower networks. Specifically, hummingbird-flower networks had a lower proportion of realized interactions (lower C), decreased niche overlap (greater H-2) and greater modularity (greater Q(B)). However, we found no significant differences between hummingbird- and sunbird-flower networks, nor between sunbird- and honeyeater-flower networks. Main conclusions As expected, hummingbirds and their floral resources have greater interaction specialization than honeyeaters, possibly because of greater phenotypic specialization and greater floral resource richness in the New World. Interaction specialization in sunbird-flower communities was similar to both hummingbird-flower and honeyeater-flower communities. This may either be due to the relatively small number of sunbird-flower networks available, or because sunbird-flower communities share features of both hummingbird-flower communities (specialized floral shapes) and honeyeater-flower communities (fewer floral resources). These results suggest a link between interaction specialization and both phenotypic specialization and floral resource richness within bird-flower communities at a global scale.