Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Interactive effects of herbivory and competition intensity determine invasive plant performance.

Abstract

Herbivory can reduce plant fitness, and its effects can be increased by competition. Though numerous studies have examined the joint effects of herbivores and competitors on plant performance, these interactive effects are seldom considered in the context of plant invasions. Here, we examined variation in plant performance within a competitive environment in response to both specialist and generalist herbivores using Chinese tallow as a model species. We combined tallow plants from native and invasive populations to form all possible pairwise combinations, and designated invasive populations as stronger neighbours and native populations as weaker neighbours. We found that when no herbivory was imposed, invasive populations always had higher total biomass than natives, regardless of their neighbours, which is consistent with our assumption of increased competitive ability. Defoliation by either generalist or specialist herbivores suppressed plant growth but the effects of specialists were generally stronger for invasive populations. Invasive populations had their lowest biomass when fed upon by specialists while simultaneously competing with stronger neighbours. The root/shoot ratios of invasive populations were lower than those of native populations under almost all conditions, and invasive plants were taller than native plants overall, especially when herbivores were present, suggesting that invasive populations may adopt an "aboveground first" strategy to cope with herbivory and competition. These results suggest that release from herbivores, especially specialists, improves an invader's performance and helps to increase its competitive ability. Therefore, increasing interspecific competition intensity by planting a stronger neighbour while simultaneously releasing a specialist herbivore may be an especially effective method of managing invasive plants.