Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Pollination and reproduction enhance the invasive potential of an early invader: the case of Lythrum salicaria (purple loosetrife) in South Africa.

Abstract

The potential of an alien plant to spread rapidly and colonize new habitat may be related to the mode of reproduction and the ability to attract pollinators. Most studies focus on widespread invasive plants, in which pollinators are rarely limiting. Here, we assess the ability of a recent invader in South Africa, the tristylous Lythrum salicaria to self-reproduce and whether this can explain the delay between introduction and spread. This study was conducted in one of the largest known populations (a total of 7 populations in South Africa) of L. salicaria in the Liesbeek river in the fynbos biome. We assessed the importance of pollinators and autonomous selfing in L. salicaria by comparing seed set between pollinator excluded and naturally pollinated flowers. Overall, 5 pollinators (4 native and 1 alien) were recorded with Cape honeybees and Africa Monarch butterflies the most prominent. Seed and fruit set were significantly higher in open pollinated flowers compared to pollinator excluded flowers. Also, seed and fruit set in pollinator excluded flowers were higher in long and medium morphs compared to short morphs. Germination was high for seeds from pollinator, but also from pollinator excluded treatments. This shows that L. salicaria in South Africa is self-compatible to some extent, but it is frequented by pollinators, significantly increasing seed production. Despite L. salicaria being tristylous, all 3 morphs are present in South Africa and with a huge seed production, this species has the potential to become a major invader of rivers and wetlands in South Africa.