Diversity and Composition of Pollen Loads Carried by Pollinators Are Primarily Driven by Insect Traits, Not Floral Community Characteristics

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Flowering plants require conspecific pollen to reproduce but they often also receive heterospecific pollen, suggesting that pollinators carry mixed pollen loads. However, little is known about drivers of abundance, diversity or composition of pollen carried by pollinators. Are insect-carried pollen loads shaped by pollinator traits, or do they reflect available floral resources? We quantified pollen on 251 individual bees and 95 flies in a florally diverse community. We scored taxonomic order, sex, body size, hairiness and ecological specialization of pollinators, and recorded composition of available flowers. We used phylogenetically controlled model selection to compare relative influences of pollinator traits and floral resources on abundance, diversity and composition of insect-carried pollen. We tested congruence between composition of pollen loads and available flowers. Pollinator size, specialization and type (female bee, male bee, or fly) described pollen abundance, diversity and composition better than floral diversity. Pollen loads varied widely among insects (10–80,000,000 grains, 1–16 species). Pollen loads of male bees were smaller, but vastly more diverse than those of female bees, and equivalent in size but modestly more diverse than those of flies. Pollen load size and diversity were positively correlated with body size but negatively correlated with insect ecological specialization. These traits also drove variation in taxonomic and phylogenetic composition of insect-carried pollen loads, but composition was only weakly congruent with available floral resources. Qualities of pollinators best predict abundance and diversity of carried pollen indicating that functional composition of pollinator communities may be important to structuring heterospecific pollen transfer among plants.