Prescribed fire increases plant–pollinator network robustness to losses of rare native forbs

Susan M. Waters, Rachel M. Mitchell, Emily R. Brown, Ethan M. Taber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Restoration efforts often focus on changing the composition and structure of invaded plant communities, with two implicit assumptions: (1) functional interactions with species of other trophic levels, such as pollinators, will reassemble automatically when native plant diversity is restored and (2) restored communities will be more resilient to future stressors. However, the impact of restoration activities on pollinator richness, plant–pollinator interaction network structure, and network robustness is incompletely understood. Leveraging a restoration chronosequence in Pacific Northwest prairies, we examined the effects of restoration-focused prescribed fire and native forb replanting on floral resources, pollinator visitation, and plant–pollinator network structure. We then simulated the effects of plant species loss/removal scenarios on secondary extinction cascades in the networks. Specifically, we explored three management-relevant plant loss scenarios (removal of an abundant exotic forb, removal of an abundant forb designated a noxious weed, and loss of the rarest native forb) and compared them to control scenarios. Pyrodiversity and proportion of area recently burned increased the abundance and diversity of floral resources, with concomitant increases in pollinator visitation and diversity. Pyrodiversity also decreased network connectance and nestedness, increased modularity, and buffered networks against secondary extinction cascades. Rare forbs contributed disproportionately to network robustness in less restored prairies, while removal of typical “problem” plants like exotic and noxious species had relatively small impacts on network robustness, particularly in prairies with a long history of restoration activities. Restoration actions aimed mainly at improving the diversity and abundance of pollinator-provisioning plants may also produce plant–pollinator networks with increased resilience to plant species losses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2928
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • extinction cascade
  • grassland
  • native
  • network
  • plant–pollinator network
  • prescribed fire
  • pyrodiversity
  • restoration
  • robustness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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