Invasive species management restores a plant-pollinator mutualism in Hawaii.
The management and removal of invasive species may give rise to unanticipated changes in plant-pollinator mutualisms because they can alter the composition and functioning of plant-pollinator interactions in a variety of ways. To utilize a functional approach for invasive species management, we examined the restoration of plant-pollinator mutualisms following the large-scale removal of an invasive nectar thief and arthropod predator, Vespula pensylvanica. We reduced V. pensylvanica populations in large plots managed over multiple years to examine the response of plant-pollinator mutualisms and the fruit production of a functionally important endemic Hawaiian tree species, Metrosideros polymorpha. To integrate knowledge of the invader's behaviour and the plant's mating system, we determined the efficacy of V. pensylvanica as a pollinator of M. polymorpha and quantified the dependence of M. polymorpha on animal pollination (e.g. level of self-compatibility and pollen limitation). The reduction of V. pensylvanica in managed sites, when compared to unmanaged sites, resulted in a significant increase in the visitation rates of effective bee pollinators (e.g. introduced Apis mellifera and native Hylaeus spp.) and in the fruit production of M. polymorpha. Apis mellifera, following the management of V. pensylvanica, appears to be acting as a substitute pollinator for M. polymorpha, replacing extinct or threatened bird and bee species in our study system. Synthesis and applications. Fruit production of the native M. polymorpha was increased after management of the invasive pollinator predator V. pensylvanica; however, the main pollinators were no longer native but introduced. This research thus demonstrates the diverse impacts of introduced species on ecological function and the ambiguous role they play in restoration. We recommend incorporating ecological function and context into invasive species management as this approach may enable conservation managers to simultaneously minimize the negative and maximize the positive impacts (e.g. taxon substitution) of introduced species. Such novel restoration approaches are needed, especially in highly degraded ecosystems.