Plant-microbe-herbivore interactions in invasive and non-invasive alien plant species


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  1. Plants interact with many organisms, such as microbes and herbivores, and these interactions are likely to affect the establishment and spread of plants. In the context of plant invasions, mycorrhizal fungi and constitutive and induced resistance of plants against herbivores have received attention independently of each other. However, plants are frequently involved in complex multi-trophic interactions, which might differ between invasive and non-invasive alien plants.
  2. In a multi-species comparative experiment, we aimed to improve our understanding of plant traits associated with invasiveness. We tested whether eight invasive alien plant species use the mycorrhizal symbiosis in a more beneficial way, and have higher levels of constitutive or induced resistance against two generalist bioassay herbivores, than nine non-invasive alien species. We further assessed whether the presence of mycorrhizal fungi altered the resistance of the plant species, and whether this differed between invasive and non-invasive alien species.
  3. While invasive species produced more biomass, they did not differ in their biomass response to mycorrhizal fungi from non-invasive alien species. Invasive species also did not have higher levels of constitutive or induced resistance against the two generalist herbivores. Mycorrhizal fungi greatly affected the resistance of our plant species, however, this was also unrelated to whether the alien species were invasive or not.
  4. Our study confirms the previous findings that invasive species generally grow faster and produce more biomass than non-invasive alien species. We further show that alien plant species used a variety of defence strategies, and also varied in their interactions with mycorrhizal fungi. These multi-trophic interactions were not consistently related to invasiveness of the alien plant species.
  5. We suggest that awareness of the fact that alien plant species are involved in multi-trophic interactions might lead to a more complete understanding of the factors contributing to a plant's success.