Assessing the effects of native plants on the pollination of an exotic herb, the blueweed Echium vulgare (Boraginaceae).
The impacts of exotic plants on the pollination and reproductive success of natives have been widely reported; however, in spite of its importance for the invasive process, the role of native plants in the pollination and reproduction of exotic plants has been less explored. To fill this gap, we compared the patterns of pollination and reproductive success in the invasive herb Echium vulgare (Boraginaceae) between monospecific patches (only E. vulgare) and mixed patches (sympatry with native herbs Schizanthus hookeri and Stachys albicaulis) in central Chile. Using sample quadrats of 1 m × 2 m, we quantified the richness, diversity and visitation rate of flower visitors in 15-min observation intervals. We conducted an assay to assess the effect of the patch types (monospecific and mixed) and the isolation of flowers to visitors on both the fruit set and seed/ovule ratio. We showed that native plants favoured the richness of visitors of E. vulgare; however, they did not lead to increases in visitation rate. The reproductive success of E. vulgare did not show differences between contrasted patches; however, the isolation of visitors decreased the fruit set, although seed production was maintained in the absence of pollinators, presumably by an autogamous mechanism. Complementary to our main research focus, we assessed changes in pollination variables and reproductive output in two coflowering native plants that occur with E. vulgare, S. hookeri and S. albicaulis. Despite the fact that our correlational study did not allow us to dissect the effects of mixed patches and relative plant abundances on variables measured for natives, we observed an increase in pollinator richness in mixed patches for the two plants studied. These results suggest a potential facilitation for visitor richness of the exotic plant in coexistence with native plants, although this facilitation does not result in changes in the visit rate or on the reproductive success of any of the studied species. This work underlines the need for additional research on community levels that assess reciprocal effects on pollination between coflowering natives and exotics.