- 1A prominent idea in the literature on plant–herbivore interactions is that fast-growing species have low resistance but high resilience to herbivory. In other words, fast-growing species are selectively eaten by herbivores but recover quickly following damage. Many studies have challenged the generality of this theory, but little attention has been paid to plant species that have evolved in the absence of major groups of herbivores. Here we analyse whether this resistance-resilience trade-off applies to New Zealand woody species, which evolved without exposure to mammalian herbivores until their introduction in 19th century.
- 2We simulated deer browse by clipping saplings of 12 tree species to varying extents (0, 20, 40, 80 and 100% of leaf-bearing branches removed), and quantified the shoot growth, diameter growth and survival of these saplings. The time taken to regrow the removed branches was generally slow, but varied among species. For example, species took between 0.5 and 3 years to recover from removal of 60% of branches. It was the inherently fast-growing species that recovered most quickly. Some species had stimulated shoot growth at moderate levels of clipping (40–60%) but this effect had relatively little effect on recovery time compared with differences in potential growth rates of species.
- 3Diameter growth rate fell linearly with increased clipping intensity for all 12 species, and there was no indication of recovery 2 years after the treatment. We speculate that saplings invested in rebuilding their canopies following clipping, and that few resources were left over for diameter growth.
- 4Few saplings died as a result of clipping, except when 100% of leaf-bearing shoots were removed, in which case five species died in substantial numbers (> 15%), including all three conifers in the study.
- 5Previous work has shown that the most palatable species (i.e. those with low resistance) have leaves with low fibre content. We find that these species are relatively fast growing and recover most rapidly from simulated browsing (i.e. are highly resilient). This provides some support for a resistance-resilience trade-off related to potential growth rates.
- 6Deer invasion in New Zealand was associated with the loss of short soft-leaved tree species from the browse layer. Our study suggests that the most palatable species have the potential to grow fast and may be in a relatively strong position to recover if deer are eradicated.