Journal article Open Access
Many structural patterns have been found to be important for the stability and robustness of mutualistic plant–pollinator networks. These structural patterns are impacted by a suite of variables, including species traits, species abundances, their spatial configuration, and their phylogenetic history. Here, we consider a specific trait: phenology, or the timing of life history events. We expect that timing and duration of activity of pollinators, or of flowering in plants, could greatly affect the species' roles within networks in which they are embedded. Using plant–pollinator networks from 33 sites in southern British Columbia, Canada, we asked (a) how phenological species traits, specifically timing of first appearance in the network and duration of activity in a network, were related to species' roles within a network, and (b) how those traits affected network robustness to phenologically biased species loss. We found that long duration of activity increased connection within modules for both pollinators and plants and among modules for plants. We also found that date of first appearance was positively related to interaction strength asymmetry in plants but negatively related to pollinators. Networks were generally more robust to the loss of pollinators than plants, and robustness increased if the models allow new interactions to form when old ones are lost, constrained by overlapping phenology of plants and pollinators. Robustness declined with the loss of late-flowering plants, which tended to have higher interaction strength asymmetry. In addition, robustness declined with loss of early-flying or long-duration pollinators. These pollinators tended to be among-module connectors. Our results point to networks being limited by early-flying pollinators. If plants flower earlier due to climate change, plant fitness may decline as they will depend on early emerging pollinators, unless pollinators also emerge earlier.