Bee community preference for an invasive thistle associated with higher pollen protein content

Abstract

Non-native plant species reliant on insect pollination must attract novel pollinators in their introduced habitat to reproduce. Indeed, pollination services provided by resident floral visitors may contribute to the spread of non-native species, which may then affect the pollination services received by native plants. To determine the mechanisms by which an invasive thistle attracts pollinators in its introduced range, and whether its presence changes the pollinator visitation to native plant species, we compared bee visitation to native plants in the presence or absence of the invader. We experimentally tested the effect of a thistle invasion into a native plant community. We found that the non-native thistle was the most attractive of the plant species to visiting bee species. However, there was no effect of experimental treatment (presence of thistle) on bee abundance or visitation rate (bees per unit floral area per sample) to native plant species. Across 68 bee and 6 plant species, we found a significant correlation between pollen protein content and bee abundance and visitation rate. Thistle pollen also had a similar protein:lipid ratio to legumes, which correlated with bumble bee visitation. The high protein content of the thistle pollen, as compared to four native asters, may allow it to attract pollinators in novel ecosystems, and potentially contribute to its success as an invader. At the same time, this high protein pollen may act as a novel resource to pollinators in the thistle’s invaded range.

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Data availability

Interaction data will be made available on the Interaction Web Database (https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/interactionweb/) upon publication and are currently included in the supplementary material. The separate measures of plant traits and abundances of collected species are all reported in the supplementary material.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is dedicated in loving memory to S. Smiles. We would like to thank the farmers at the Russell Larson Research Farm, especially W. S. Harkcom, greenhouse manager, L.S. Burghard, field assistants D. Brough and K. McIlroy, S. Droege for identifications, J. Keller and E. Allen for additional field assistance. We would also like to thank S. Hodge and A. Jackson for advice on statistics. CJ Fisher was supported by an Apes Valentes undergraduate research award. AV was supported by a United States Department of Agriculture -NIFA-AFRI Predoctoral Fellowship (2014-02219). LR was supported by National Science Foundation Grant #DMS-1313115 and a Marie Curie Fellowship (FOMN-705287). KS was supported by a National Science Foundation Grants #DMS-1313115 and #DEB-1556444.

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LR and KS conceived the study. LR established the experiment. LR and CJF collected the data. LR analyzed the data and wrote the first draft. AV analyzed the pollen nutrition. All authors contributed substantially to editing and revising the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Laura Russo.

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Communicated by Monica Geber.

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Russo, L., Vaudo, A.D., Fisher, C.J. et al. Bee community preference for an invasive thistle associated with higher pollen protein content. Oecologia 190, 901–912 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04462-5

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Keywords

  • Bees
  • Carduus acanthoides
  • Invasive species
  • Pollen nutrition
  • Pollination