Enemy damage of exotic plant species is similar to that of natives and increases with productivity
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- In their colonized ranges, exotic plants may be released from some of the herbivores or pathogens of their home ranges but these can be replaced by novel enemies. It is of basic and practical interest to understand which characteristics of invaded communities control accumulation of the new pests. Key questions are whether enemy load on exotic species is smaller than on native competitors as suggested by the enemy release hypothesis (ERH) and whether this difference is most pronounced in resource-rich habitats as predicted by the resource–enemy release hypothesis (R-ERH).
- In 72 populations of 12 exotic invasive species, we scored all visible above-ground damage morphotypes caused by herbivores and fungal pathogens. In addition, we quantified levels of leaf herbivory and fruit damage. We then assessed whether variation in damage diversity and levels was explained by habitat fertility, by relatedness between exotic species and the native community or rather by native species diversity.
- In a second part of the study, we also tested the ERH and the R-ERH by comparing damage of plants in 28 pairs of co-occurring native and exotic populations, representing nine congeneric pairs of native and exotic species.
- In the first part of the study, diversity of damage morphotypes and damage levels of exotic populations were greater in resource-rich habitats. Co-occurrence of closely related, native species in the community significantly increased the probability of fruit damage. Herbivory on exotics was less likely in communities with high phylogenetic diversity.
- In the second part of the study, exotic and native congeneric populations incurred similar damage diversity and levels, irrespective of whether they co-occurred in nutrient-poor or nutrient-rich habitats.
- Synthesis. We identified habitat productivity as a major community factor affecting accumulation of enemy damage by exotic populations. Similar damage levels in exotic and native congeneric populations, even in species pairs from fertile habitats, suggest that the enemy release hypothesis or the R-ERH cannot always explain the invasiveness of introduced species.