Reproductive biology and pollinators of the invasive shrub Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunberg).
This study examined the reproductive biology of the invasive nitrogen-fixing shrub Elaeagnus umbellata. Hand-pollination experiments and pollinator-exclusion experiments were performed in four Illinois, U.S.A. populations to determine the breeding system of E. umbellata, and floral visitors were collected to determine pollinators in the invasive range. Although self-compatibility is a trait shown to confer invasiveness, our experiments revealed that E. umbellata is a mostly outcrossing species with a self-incompatible breeding system. Variation does exist in that a small percentage of individuals allow self-fertilization through autogamy. There is also variability among plants in the separation of male and female floral parts that may further affect selfing potential. The majority of floral visitors to E. umbellata were generalist pollinators, including bees, flies, and moths. Many of the larger insect visitors are pollinators of E. umbellata based on analysis of pollen on insect specimens, but smaller insects do not pollinate as frequently. Its ability to attract generalist pollinators means that E. umbellata will produce fruit wherever pollinators and mates occur; however, the low fruit set on open-pollinated branches contrasts with the idea of a prolifically fruiting plant. E. umbellata seems to serve as a reliable food source for many ecologically and economically significant insects, including native bumble bees (Bombus), the exotic honey bee (Apis mellifera), and armyworm (Mythimna unipuncta), a crop pest.