Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Insect-flower interaction network structure is resilient to a temporary pulse of floral resources from invasive Rhododendron ponticum.

Abstract

Invasive alien plants can compete with native plants for resources, and may ultimately decrease native plant diversity and/or abundance in invaded sites. This could have consequences for native mutualistic interactions, such as pollination. Although invasive plants often become highly connected in plant-pollinator interaction networks, in temperate climates they usually only flower for part of the season. Unless sufficient alternative plants flower outside this period, whole-season floral resources may be reduced by invasion. We hypothesized that the cessation of flowering of a dominant invasive plant would lead to dramatic, seasonal compositional changes in plant-pollinator communities, and subsequent changes in network structure. We investigated variation in floral resources, flower-visiting insect communities, and interaction networks during and after the flowering of invasive Rhododendron ponticum in four invaded Irish woodland sites. Floral resources decreased significantly after R. ponticum flowering, but the magnitude of the decrease varied among sites. Neither insect abundance nor richness varied between the two periods (during and after R. ponticum flowering), yet insect community composition was distinct, mostly due to a significant reduction in Bombus abundance after flowering. During flowering R. ponticum was frequently visited by Bombus; after flowering, these highly mobile pollinators presumably left to find alternative floral resources. Despite compositional changes, however, network structural properties remained stable after R. ponticum flowering ceased: generality increased, but quantitative connectance, interaction evenness, vulnerability, H′2 and network size did not change. This is likely because after R. ponticum flowering, two to three alternative plant species became prominent in networks and insects increased their diet breadth, as indicated by the increase in network-level generality. We conclude that network structure is robust to seasonal changes in floral abundance at sites invaded by alien, mass-flowering plant species, as long as alternative floral resources remain throughout the season to support the flower-visiting community.