The effects of herbivory and competition on the invasive alien plant Senecio inaequidens (Asteraceae).
Senecio inaequidens DC. (Asteraceae) is an invasive alien plant introduced to Europe from South Africa in around 1896. It contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are toxic to livestock and humans. S. inaequidens would therefore be an economic and ecological problem if it became established and abundant in natural or farmed grassland ecosystems. We conducted field experiments using a split-plot design to determine the effects of rabbit grazing, interspecific plant competition, mollusc and insect herbivory on growth, survival and reproduction of S. inaequidens. Plants were grown from seeds of three different ecotypes under standardized greenhouse conditions and transplanted into field plots. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) were excluded from experimental plots using rabbit fences. Competition was manipulated by either creating subplots with bare ground or leaving the vegetation cover intact. Data were recorded between June and August 2002. Ecotypes differed significantly in morphological parameters, and in their responses to invertebrate herbivory. Interspecific plant competition and rabbit grazing significantly reduced growth and reproduction of S. inaequidens. Regrowth shoots of S. inaequidens produced after rabbit grazing were not subsequently eaten by rabbits. Unpalatability of regrowth shoots may be attributable to changes in pyrrolizidine alkaloid composition with plant age. Mollusc herbivory significantly reduced the number of capitulae produced. We found adults of Longitarsus jacobaeae Waterhouse (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), a specialist herbivore of European Senecio jacobaea L. (Asteraceae), feeding on 79% of S. inaequidens plants. 320 larvae of Tyria jacobaeae L. (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) did not feed on S. inaequidens under free-choice field conditions. We conclude that S. inaequidens is able to survive and reproduce in disturbed grassland ecosystems. L. jacobaeae might be a suitable agent for biological control of S. inaequidens in European introduced populations in the future.