Native fruit traits may mediate dispersal competition between native and non-native plants.
Seed disperser preferences may mediate the impact of invasive, non-native plant species on their new ecological communities. Significant seed disperser preference for invasives over native species could facilitate the spread of the invasives while impeding native plant dispersal. Such competition for dispersers could negatively impact the fitness of some native plants. Here, we review published literature to identify circumstances under which preference for non-native fruits occurs. The importance of fruit attraction is underscored by several studies demonstrating that invasive, fleshy-fruited plant species are particularly attractive to regional frugivores. A small set of studies directly compare frugivore preference for native vs. invasive species, and we find that different designs and goals within such studies frequently yield contrasting results. When similar native and non-native plant species have been compared, frugivores have tended to show preference for the non-natives. This preference appears to stem from enhanced feeding efficiency or accessibility associated with the non-native fruits. On the other hand, studies examining preference within existing suites of co-occurring species, with no attempt to maximize fruit similarity, show mixed results, with frugivores in most cases acting opportunistically or preferring native species. A simple, exploratory meta-analysis finds significant preference for native species when these studies are examined as a group. We illustrate the contrasting findings typical of these two approaches with results from two small-scale aviary experiments we conducted to determine preference by frugivorous bird species in northern California. In these case studies, native birds preferred the native fruit species as long as it was dissimilar from non-native fruits, while non-native European starlings preferred non-native fruit. However, native birds showed slight, non-significant preference for non-native fruit species when such fruits were selected for their physical resemblance to the native fruit species. Based on our review and case studies, we propose that fruit characteristics of native plant communities could dictate how well a non-native, fleshy-fruited plant species competes for dispersers with natives. Native bird preferences may be largely influenced by regional native fruits, such that birds are attracted to the colors, morphology, and infructescence structures characteristic of preferred native fruits. Non-native fruits exhibiting similar traits are likely to encounter bird communities predisposed to consume them. If those non-natives offer greater fruit abundance, energy content, or accessibility, they may outcompete native plants for dispersers.