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Relative abundance of an invasive alien plant affects native pollination processes

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Abstract

One major characteristic of invasive alien species is their occurrence at high abundances in their new habitat. Flowering invasive plant species that are visited by native insects and overlap with native plant species in their pollinators may facilitate or disrupt native flower visitation and fertilisation by forming large, dense populations with high numbers of flowers and copious rewards. We investigated the direction of such a proposed effect for the alien invasive Rhododendron ponticum in Irish habitats. Flower visitation, conspecific and alien pollen deposition, fruit and seed set were measured in a self-compatible native focal plant, Digitalis purpurea, and compared between field sites that contained different relative abundances of R. ponticum. Flower visitation was significantly lower at higher alien relative plant abundances than at lower abundances or in the absence of the alien. Native flowers experienced a significant decrease in conspecific pollen deposition with increasing alien abundance. Heterospecific pollen transfer was very low in all field sites but increased significantly with increasing relative R. ponticum abundance. However, lower flower visitation and lower conspecific pollen transfer did not alter reproductive success of D. purpurea. Our study shows that indirect interactions between alien and native plants for pollination can be modified by population characteristics (such as relative abundance) in a similar way as interactions among native plant species. In D. purpurea, only certain aspects of pollination and reproduction were affected by high alien abundances which is probably a result of high resilience due to a self-compatible breeding system. Native species that are more susceptible to pollen limitation are more likely to experience fitness disadvantages in habitats with high relative alien plant abundances.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Karl Duffy for field assistance and to Steven Waldren and the members of staff of the Trinity Botanic Gardens for technical support. We thank Coillte Ireland for access to field sites and usage permission, and Bill Kunin for helpful comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by Science Foundation Ireland as part of a Basic Research Grant (04/BR/B0637) and a UREKA Phytotechnology Ireland Summer School Grant, both awarded to J.C.S. This research complies with current Irish laws.

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Correspondence to Anke Christiane Dietzsch.

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Communicated by Miguel Franco.

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Dietzsch, A.C., Stanley, D.A. & Stout, J.C. Relative abundance of an invasive alien plant affects native pollination processes. Oecologia 167, 469–479 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-1987-z

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