Solitary invasive orchid bee outperforms co-occurring native bees to promote fruit set of an invasive Solanum
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- Liu, H. & Pemberton, R.W. Oecologia (2009) 159: 515. doi:10.1007/s00442-008-1232-6
Our understanding of the effects of introduced invasive pollinators on plants has been exclusively drawn from studies on introduced social bees. One might expect, however, that the impacts of introduced solitary bees, with much lower population densities and fewer foragers, would be small. Yet little is known about the potential effects of naturalized solitary bees on the environment. We took advantage of the recent naturalization of an orchid bee, Euglossa viridissima, in southern Florida to study the effects of this solitary bee on reproduction of Solanum torvum, an invasive shrub. Flowers of S. torvum require specialized buzz pollination. Through timed floral visitor watches and two pollination treatments (control and pollen supplementation) at three forest edge and three open area sites, we found that the fruit set of S. torvum was pollen limited at the open sites where the native bees dominate, but was not pollen limited at the forest sites where the invasive orchid bees dominate. The orchid bee’s pollination efficiency was nearly double that of the native halictid bees, and was also slightly higher than that of the native carpenter bee. Experiments using small and large mesh cages (to deny or allow E. viridissima access, respectively) at one forest site indicated that when the orchid bee was excluded, the flowers set one-quarter as many fruit as when the bee was allowed access. The orchid bee was the most important pollinator of the weed at the forest sites, which could pose additional challenges to the management of this weed in the fragmented, endangered tropical hardwood forests in the region. This specialized invasive mutualism may promote populations of both the orchid bee and this noxious weed. Invasive solitary bees, particularly species that are specialized pollinators, appear to have more importance than has previously been recognized.