Herbivore exclusion drives the evolution of plant competitiveness via increased allelopathy
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- The ‘Evolution of Increased Competitive Ability (EICA)’ hypothesis predicts the evolution of plant invasiveness in introduced ranges when plants escape from their natural enemies. So far, the EICA hypothesis has been tested by comparing plant vigor from native and invasive populations, but these studies are confounded by among-population differences in additional environmental factors and/or founder effects.
- We tested the major prediction of EICA by comparing the competitive ability (CA) of Solidago altissima plants originating from artificial selection plots in which we manipulated directly the exposure to above-ground herbivores.
- In a common garden experiment, we found an increase in inter-specific, but not intra-specific, CA in clones from herbivore exclusion plots relative to control plots. The evolutionary increase in inter-specific CA coincided with the increased production of polyacetylenes, whose major constituent was allelopathic against a heterospecific competitor, Poa pratensis, but not against conspecifics.
- Our results provide direct evidence that release from herbivory alone can lead to an evolutionary increase in inter-specific CA, which is likely to be mediated by the increased production of allelopathic compounds in S. altissima.