And the beak shall inherit – evolution in response to invasion


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The increased demographic performance of biological invaders may often depend on their escape from specifically adapted enemies. Here we report that native taxa in colonized regions may swiftly evolve to exploit such emancipated exotic species because of selection caused by invaders. A native Australian true bug has expanded it host range to include a vine imported from tropical America that has become a serious environmental weed. Based on field comparisons and historical museum specimens, we show that over the past 30–40 years, seed feeding soapberry bugs have evolved 5–10% longer mouthparts, better suited to attack the forest-invading balloon vines, which have large fruits. Laboratory experiments show that these differences are genetically based, and result in a near-doubling of the rate at which seeds are attacked. Thus a native biota that initially permits invasion may rapidly respond in ways that ultimately facilitate control.