Trophic consequences of a biological invasion: do plant invasions increase predator abundance?


J. A. Lau, Center for Population Biology, One Shields Avenue, Univ. of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA. E-mail:


As invasive species become integrated into existing communities, they engage in a wide variety of trophic interactions with other community members. Many of these interactions are direct (e.g. predator–prey interactions or interference competition), but invasive species also can affect native community members indirectly, by influencing the abundances of intermediary species in trophic webs. Observational studies suggest that invasive plant species affect herbivorous arthropod communities and that these effects may flow up trophic webs to influence the abundance of predators. However, few studies have experimentally manipulated the presence of invasive plants to quantify the effects of plant invasion on higher trophic levels. Here, I use comparisons across sites that have or have not been invaded by the invasive plant Medicago polymorpha, combined with experimental removals of Medicago and insect herbivores, to investigate how a plant invasion affects the abundance of predators. Both manipulative and observational experiments showed that Medicago increased the abundance of the exotic herbivore Hypera and predatory spiders, suggesting positive bottom–up effects of plant invasions on higher trophic levels. Path analyses conducted on data from natural habitats revealed that Medicago primarily increased spider abundance through herbivore-mediated indirect pathways. Specifically, Medicago density was positively correlated with the abundance of the dominant herbivore Hypera, and increased Hypera densities were correlated with increased spider abundance. Smaller-scale experimental studies confirmed that Medicago may increase spider abundance through herbivore-mediated indirect pathways, but also showed that the effects of Medicago varied across sites, including having no effect or having direct effects on spider abundance. If effects of invasive species commonly flow through trophic webs, then invasive species have the potential to affect numerous species throughout the community, especially those species whose dynamics are tightly connected to highly-impacted community members through trophic linkages.