1. Current hypotheses predict contrasting roles for natural enemies in determining the success or failure of plant invasions. Differences in plant-induced resistance and tolerance to native herbivores between native and exotic species might contribute to resolve this controversy.
2. We examined the differences between the native Pinus pinaster and the exotic P. radiata in constitutive resistance, inducibility of chemical defences, realized resistance and tolerance to the large pine weevil Hylobius abietis in NW Spain. In this region, both pine species closely coexist and are threatened by the weevil, a harmful phloem feeder that causes extensive mortality and growth reduction in young pine stands.
3. We performed two in vitro cafeteria bioassays, two induction experiments with direct exposure to the weevil and spraying methyl jasmonate and an exhaustive field study of the genetic variation in tolerance and resistance in forestry genetic trials.
4. The weevil significantly preferred the native to the exotic pine when twigs were offered as cut material in Petri dishes. However, the pattern in the field was the opposite, with greater damage on the exotic. Inducibility of stem oleoresin did not differ between species when elicited by the application of methyl jasmonate. However, after a 72-h experimental exposure to the weevil, stem resin content in the native pine was double that in the exotic pine, suggesting a lower capability of the exotic pine to respond to the insect damage. In the field, family relationships between early damage and several pine fitness correlates revealed a significantly greater tolerance of the native pine to the insect damage. Furthermore, only the native pine showed genetic variation in tolerance to the damage.
5. Synthesis. The preference of the herbivore for the native species was counterbalanced by a lower capability for expressing induced resistance to the weevil and reduced tolerance in the exotic species, resulting in no apparent fitness advantage of the exotic P. radiata over the native P. pinaster. Differences in inducibility by and tolerance to native enemies between exotic and native host congeners emerge as key traits for understanding how native enemies might contribute to preventing an introduced species from becoming invasive.