Effect of artificial feeders on pollen loads of the hummingbirds of Cerro de La Muerte, Costa Rica.
Although sugar-water feeders are commonly used by enthusiasts to attract hummingbirds, little is known about how they affect hummingbird behavior and flower use. We studied the highland hummingbird assemblage of Cerro de La Muerte, Costa Rica, both at a site with permanent feeders (La Georgina Restaurant) and further from it. We examined how feeder use and monopolization affected seasonal changes in pollen loads during four sampling periods, including dry and wet seasons, from 2003-2005. We expected that species monopolizing the feeders would carry little or no pollen whatsoever, and would have pollen loads characterized by low floral diversity, in contrast with species less dependent on feeders. We obtained pollen samples from 183 individuals of four hummingbird species captured around the feeders using mist nets, which were compared with a pollen reference collection of plants with a pollination syndrome by hummingbirds. The same methods were implemented at a site 3km away from the feeders. Feeder usage was quantified by counting the number of times hummingbirds drank from the feeders in periods of 4min separated by 1min. The effects of hummingbird species and season on pollen load categories were assessed using a nominal logistic regression. The alpha species at the site, the Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis), dominated the feeders during the dry season. Meanwhile, in the wet season, feeder usage was more evenly distributed across species, with the exception of the Volcano Hummingbird, Selasphorus flammula, which occupies the last place in the dominance hierarchy. Pollen loads of hummingbirds captured near feeders were low in abundance (more than 50% of captured individuals had zero or low pollen loads), and low in species richness (96% of the hummingbirds with pollen from only one plant genus, Centropogon). Overall pollen loads increased during the dry season coinciding with peaks in flower availability, although the majority of captured hummingbirds carried no pollen. Mist nets located 3km from La Georgina returned few captures (one-to-three specimens) per sampling date, contrasting with observations made before feeders were present. These results suggest that sugar-water feeders gather hummingbirds in over considerable distances drawing them away from flowers. The competitive and antagonistic pattern shown between feeders and flowers indicate that natural pollination system could be significantly altered. Supplementing hummingbirds with food seems likely to interfere with pollination networks already stressed by many anthropogenic effects.
Keywords: panterpe insignis, eugenes fulgens, selasphorus flammula, colibri thalassinus, cerro de la muerte, artificial feeders, pollen loads, foraging ecology