Effects of non-native Melilotus albus on pollination and reproduction in two boreal shrubs

Abstract

The establishment of abundantly flowered, highly rewarding non-native plant species is expected to have strong consequences for native plants through altered pollination services, particularly in boreal forest where the flowering season is short and the pollinator pool is small. In 18 boreal forest sites, we added flowering Melilotus albus to some sites and left some sites as controls in 2 different years to test if the invasive plant influences the pollination and reproductive success of two co-flowering ericaceous species: Vaccinium vitis-idaea and Rhododendron groenlandicum. We found that M. albus increased the pollinator diversity and tended to increase visitation rates to the focal native plant species compared to control sites. Melilotus albus facilitated greater seed production per berry in V. vitis-idaea when we added 120 plants compared to when we added 40 plants or in control sites. In R. groenlandicum, increasing numbers of M. albus inflorescences lowered conspecific pollen loads and percentage of flowers pollinated; however, no differences in fruit set were detected. The number of M. albus inflorescences had greater importance in explaining R. groenlandicum pollination compared to other environmental variables such as weather and number of native flowers, and had greater importance in lower quality black spruce sites than in mixed deciduous and white spruce sites for explaining the percentage of V. vitis-idaea flowers pollinated. Our data suggest that the identity of new pollinators attracted to the invaded sites, degree of shared pollinators between invasive and native species, and variation in resource limitation among sites are likely determining factors in the reproductive responses of boreal native plants in the presence of an invasive.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this project was provided by grants from the US Department of Agriculture NIFA (ALKR-2009-04931) and National Science Foundation IGERT (grant no. 0654441). We thank our technicians (S. Decina, P. Hurtt, M. Kain, J. Malthot, L. Medinger, K. Moeller, L. Ponchione, T. Saunders) and volunteers (J. Conn, J. Martin, B. Spellman, D. Uliassi, E. Uliassi, L. Uliassi, K. Schnaars Uvino, J. Villano, and T. Villano) for assistance in field and lab work, M. Wright for greenhouse support, and the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research Program for providing access to sites. Thoughtful comments from L. Conner, A. D. McGuire, and D. Wagner greatly helped us improve this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katie V. Spellman.

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Consideration for Highlighted Student Research honor: This manuscript was prepared as a chapter in my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Once relatively unaffected by invasive plant species, the boreal forest has experienced rapidly accelerating the rates of non-native plant introduction and spread over the past few decades. The results from our study are applicable not only to this rapidly changing ecological issue in the largest terrestrial biome on the planet, but other ecosystems at the beginning of the invasion process. Further, our study helps fill the knowledge gap on plant-pollinator interactions at the northern invasion front, while also addressing larger concepts in pollination biology, such as the relative influence of pollen limitation and resource limitation on the reproductive success of insect pollinated plants.

Communicated by Julia Koricheva.

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Spellman, K.V., Schneller, L.C., Mulder, C.P.H. et al. Effects of non-native Melilotus albus on pollination and reproduction in two boreal shrubs. Oecologia 179, 495–507 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3364-9

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Keywords

  • Fruit set
  • Invasive species
  • Ledum palustre ssp. groenlandicum
  • Seed set
  • Rhododendron groenlandicum
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea