Manual sampling and video observations: an integrated approach to studying flower-visiting arthropods in high-mountain environments
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Despite the rising interest in biotic interactions in mountain ecosystems, little is known about high-altitude flower-visiting arthropods. In particular, since the research in these environment can be limited or undermined by harsh conditions and logistical difficulties, it is mandatory to develop effective approaches that maximize possibilities to gather high-quality data. Here we compared two different methods, manual sampling and video observations, to investigate the interactions between the high-mountain arthropod community and flowers of Androsace brevis (Primulaceae), a vulnerable endemic alpine species with a short flowering period occurring in early season. We manually sampled flower-visiting arthropods according to the timed-observations method and recorded their activity on video. We assessed differences and effectiveness of the two approaches to estimate flower-visiting arthropod diversity and to identify potential taxa involved in A. brevis pollination. Both methods proved to be effective and comparable in describing the diversity of flower visitors at a high taxonomic level. However, with manual sampling we were able to obtain a fine taxonomic resolution for sampled arthropods and to evaluate which taxa actually carry A. brevis pollen, while video observations were less invasive and allowed us to assess arthropod behavior and to spot rare taxa. By combining the data obtained with these two approaches we could accurately identify flower-visiting arthropods, characterize their behavior, and hypothesize a role of Hymenoptera Apoidea and Diptera Brachycera in A. brevis pollination. Therefore, we propose integrating the two approaches as a powerful instrument to unravel interactions between flowering plants and associated fauna that can provide crucial information for the conservation of vulnerable environments such as high-mountain ecosystems.