Invasive mutualisms and the structure of plant–pollinator interactions in the temperate forests of north-west Patagonia, Argentina

Authors


C.L. Morales (fax +54 2944 422111; e-mail cmorales@crub.uncoma.edu.ar).

Summary

  • 1Alien species may form plant–animal mutualistic complexes that contribute to their invasive potential. Using multivariate techniques, we examined the structure of a plant–pollinator web comprising both alien and native plants and flower visitors in the temperate forests of north-west Patagonia, Argentina. Our main objective was to assess whether plant species origin (alien or native) influences the composition of flower visitor assemblages. We also examined the influence of other potential confounding intrinsic factors such as flower symmetry and colour, and extrinsic factors such as flowering time, site and habitat disturbance.
  • 2Flowers of alien and native plant species were visited by a similar number of species and proportion of insects from different orders, but the composition of the assemblages of flower-visiting species differed between alien and native plants.
  • 3The influence of plant species origin on the composition of flower visitor assemblages persisted after accounting for other significant factors such as flowering time, bearing red corollas, and habitat disturbance. This influence was at least in part determined by the fact that alien flower visitors were more closely associated with alien plants than with native plants. The main native flower visitors were, on average, equally associated with native and alien plant species.
  • 4In spite of representing a minor fraction of total species richness (3.6% of all species), alien flower visitors accounted for > 20% of all individuals recorded on flowers. Thus, their high abundance could have a significant impact in terms of pollination.
  • 5The mutualistic web of alien plants and flower-visiting insects is well integrated into the overall community-wide pollination web. However, in addition to their use of the native biota, invasive plants and flower visitors may benefit from differential interactions with their alien partners. The existence of these invader complexes could contribute to the spread of aliens into novel environments.

Ancillary