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


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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