Effects of Native and Non-Native Vertebrate Mutualists on Plants

Clare E. Aslan, Erika S. Zavaleta, Don Croll, Bernie Tershy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Extinctions can leave species without mutualist partners and thus potentially reduce their fitness. In cases where non-native species function as mutualists, mutualism disruption associated with species' extinction may be mitigated. To assess the effectiveness of mutualist species with different origins, we conducted a meta-analysis in which we compared the effectiveness of pollination and seed-dispersal functions of native and non-native vertebrates. We used data from 40 studies in which a total of 34 non-native vertebrate mutualists in 20 geographic locations were examined. For each plant species, opportunistic non-native vertebrate pollinators were generally less effective mutualists than native pollinators. When native mutualists had been extirpated, however, plant seed set and seedling performance appeared elevated in the presence of non-native mutualists, although non-native mutualists had a negative overall effect on seed germination. These results suggest native mutualists may not be easily replaced. In some systems researchers propose taxon substitution or the deliberate introduction of non-native vertebrate mutualists to reestablish mutualist functions such as pollination and seed dispersal and to rescue native species from extinction. Our results also suggest that in places where all native mutualists are extinct, careful taxon substitution may benefit native plants at some life stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-789
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Islands
  • Meta-analysis
  • Mutualism
  • Non-native species
  • Restoration
  • Taxon substitution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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