Displacement of a native by an alien bumblebee: lower pollinator efficiency overcome by overwhelmingly higher visitation frequency.
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Biological invasions might constitute a major threat to mutualisms. Introduced pollinators might competitively displace their native counterparts, which in turn affects the pollination of native plants, if native and alien visitors differ in pollinator effectiveness. Since its invasion in 1994 into south-west Argentina, the introduced European bumblebee Bombus ruderatus has continuously increased in abundance, along with a simultaneous decrease in the abundance of the native Bombus dahlbomii. The latter is the only native bumblebee species of the temperate forests of southern South America, and the main pollinator of the endemic herb Alstroemeria aurea. In order to evaluate the impact of the ongoing displacement of the native by the alien bumblebee, we compared the pollinator effectiveness (i.e., the combination of pollinator efficiency per visit and visitation frequency) between both bumblebee species, as well as related pollinator traits that might account for potential differences in pollinator efficiency. Native Bombus dahlbomii, which has a larger body and spent more time per flower, was the more efficient pollinator compared to Bombus ruderatus, both in terms of quantity and quality of pollen deposited per visit. However, Bombus ruderatus was a much more frequent flower visitor than Bombus dahlbomii. As a consequence, Bombus ruderatus is nowadays a more effective pollinator of A. aurea than its native congener. Despite the lack of evidence of an increase in seed set at the population level, comparisons with historical records of Bombus dahlbomii abundances prior to Bombus ruderatus' invasion suggest that the overall pollination intensity of A. aurea might in fact have risen as a consequence of this invasion. Field experiments like these, that incorporate the natural variation in abundance of native and alien species, are powerful means to demonstrate that the consequences of invasions are more complex than previous manipulated and controlled experiments have suggested.