Shoot herbivory on the invasive plant, Centaurea maculosa, does not reduce its competitive effects on conspecifics and natives


  • Beth A. Newingham,

  • Ragan M. Callaway

B. A. Newingham and R. M. Callaway, Division of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. Present address for BAN: Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV 89154, USA (


Herbivory can have negative, positive, or no effect on plants. However, insect biological control assumes that herbivory will negatively affect the weed and release natives from competition. Centaurea maculosa, an invader in North America, is tolerant to herbivory, and under some conditions, herbivory may increase its competitive effects on natives. Therefore, we investigated two hypotheses: 1) herbivory stimulates compensatory growth by C. maculosa, which increases its competitive effects, and 2) herbivory stimulates the allelopathic effect of C. maculosa. In the greenhouse, Trichoplusia ni shoot herbivory reduced C. maculosa biomass when shoot damage exceeded 40% of the total original leaf area. Conspecific neighbors had no effect on C. maculosa biomass, and the presence of the natives Festuca idahoensis and F. scabrella had a positive effect on C. maculosa. Neighbors did not alter the effects of shoot herbivory. More importantly, even intense shoot herbivory on C. maculosa did not benefit neighboring plants. In a field experiment, clipping 50% of C. maculosa aboveground biomass in the early summer and again in the late summer reduced final biomass by 40% at the end of the season; however, this clipping did not affect total biomass production or reproductive output. Festuca idahoensis neighbors did not increase the effects of clipping, and aboveground damage to C. maculosa did not release F. idahoensis from competition. In the greenhouse we used activated carbon to adsorb allelochemicals, which reduced the competitive effects of C. maculosa on F. idahoensis but not on F. scabrella or other C. maculosa. However, we found no increase in the allelopathic effects of C. maculosa after shoot herbivory. In summary, our results correspond with others indicating that exceptionally high intensities of herbivory are required to suppress C. maculosa growth and reproduction; however, even intense herbivory on C. maculosa does not insure that native bunchgrasses will benefit.