Integrating Floral Trait and Flowering Time Distribution Patterns Help Reveal a More Dynamic Nature of Co-Flowering Community Assembly Processes

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Species' floral traits and flowering times are known to be the major drivers of pollinator-mediated plant–plant interactions in diverse co-flowering communities. However, their simultaneous role in mediating plant community assembly and plant–pollinator interactions is still poorly understood. Since not all species flower at the same time, inference of facilitative and competitive interactions based on floral trait distribution patterns should account for fine phenological structure (intensity of flowering overlap) within co-flowering communities. Such an approach may also help reveal the simultaneous action of competitive and facilitative interactions in structuring co-flowering communities. Here we used modularity within a co-flowering network context, as a novel approach to detect convergent and/or over-dispersed patterns in floral trait distribution and pollinator sharing. Specifically, we evaluate differences in floral trait and pollinator distribution patterns within (high temporal flowering overlap) and among co-flowering modules (low temporal flowering overlap). We further evaluate the consistency of observed floral trait and pollinator sharing distribution patterns across space (three geographical regions) and time (dry and rainy seasons). We found that floral trait similarity was significantly higher in plant species within co-flowering modules than in species among them. This suggests pollinator facilitation may lead to floral trait convergence, but only within co-flowering modules. However, our results also revealed seasonal and spatial shifts in the underlying interactions (facilitation or competition) driving co-flowering assembly, suggesting that the prevalent dominant interactions are not static. Synthesis. Overall, we provide strong evidence showing that the use of flowering time and floral trait distribution alone may be insufficient to fully uncover the role of pollinator-mediated interactions in community assembly. Integrating this information along with patterns of pollinator sharing will greatly help reveal the simultaneous action of facilitative and competitive pollinator-mediated interactions in co-flowering communities. The spatial and temporal variation in flowering and trait distribution patterns observed further emphasize the importance of adopting a more dynamic view of community assembly processes.