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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Non-native honey bees disproportionately dominate the most abundant floral resources in a biodiversity hotspot

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Most plant-pollinator mutualisms are generalized. As such, they are susceptible to perturbation by abundant, generalist, non-native pollinators such as the western honey bee (Apis mellifera), which can reach high abundances and visit flowers of many plant species in their expansive introduced range. Despite the prevalence of non-native honey bees, their effects on pollination mutualisms in natural ecosystems remain incompletely understood. Here we contrast community-level patterns of floral visitation by honey bees with that of the diverse native pollinator fauna of southern California, USA. We show that the number of honey bees visiting plant species increases much more rapidly with flower abundance than does that of non-honey bee insects, such that the percentage of all visitors represented by honey bees increases with flower abundance. Thus, honey bees could disproportionately impact the most abundantly blooming plant species and the large numbers of both specialised and generalised pollinator species that they sustain. Honey bees may preferentially exploit high-abundance floral resources because of their ability to recruit nestmates; these foraging patterns may cause native insect species to forage on lower-abundance resources to avoid competition. Our results illustrate the importance of understanding foraging patterns of introduced pollinators in order to reveal their ecological impacts.

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