The warming climate has enabled a rapid expansion of many forest pests. The adaptation potential of the invaders affects largely on how well the invasive species can spread to new areas and in what extent can they have an impact on the invaded ecosystem. To measure the adaptation potential of an invasive (winter moth) and a potentially invasive defoliating moth species (scarce umber moth), we examined life history parameters in two environments on a set of genetically diverse host trees and compared the traits with those of a resident moth species (autumnal moth). In addition, variations in life history parameters due to host genotype were calculated and compared.

The bioassay was executed by rearing moth larvae on 11 half-sib families of the host tree in two large tree line gardens. The use of half-sib families allowed us to calculate the variances due to tree genotype and also to examine if the new arrivals can affect the selection pressure on the genetic population structure of the host. According to our results, the natural genetic variation in host plant quality and small environmental differences are not sufficiently effective to restrict the spread of the already established invasive species. The invading moth species may even be better at adapting to variation in food quality than the resident moth species. The overall effect of the natural variation in tree quality was similar for all three moth species. Therefore, the newcomers are likely to only inflict a quantitative rather than qualitative change in the selection pressure on the host.