Pollination ecology is the study of the complex relationships between pollinators and the plants they pollinate. Pollination ecologists study the life cycles, distribution, and behaviors of the individuals–both plants and pollinators–as well as the entire ecosystem in which the individuals operate.
Pollinators can be animals or they can be physical forces such as wind, rain, and gravity. In order for ecologists to understand these relationships, they may study how long a flower stays open, which pollinators visit and how often, and whether a plant has an alternative method of fertilization if the regular pollinators don’t appear. They may need to examine how large a population has to be before effective pollination can take place, other flowers that compete for the pollinators’ attention, and how far a pollinator is willing to travel to find a plant of the same species.
In our modern world, many factors are changing the dynamics between plants and their pollinators. Climate change is suspected of pushing bloom times and pollinator emergence out of sync, modern agriculture has destroyed much the land where native pollinators used to live, and invasive species of both the plant and animal kind have changed the population dynamics within ecosystems to the point where plants and pollinators are not finding each other.
The study of plant/pollinator relationships will become ever more vital as we attempt to feed the world of the future.