Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 506–515
The translocation of species beyond their native range is a major threat to biodiversity. Invasions by tree-feeding insects attacking native trees and the colonization of introduced trees by native insects result in new insect–tree relationships. To date there is uncertainty about the key factors that influence the outcome of these novel interactions. We report the results of a meta-analysis of 346 pairwise comparisons of forest insect fitness on novel and ancient host tree species from 31 publications. Host specificity of insects and phylogenetic relatedness between ancient and novel host trees emerged as key factors influencing insect fitness. Overall, fitness was significantly lower on novel host species than on ancient hosts. However, in some cases, fitness increased on novel hosts, mainly in polyphagous insects or when close relatives of ancient host trees were colonized. Our synthesis enables greatly improved impact prediction and risk assessment of biological invasions.