The seeds of success: release from fungal attack on seeds may influence the invasiveness of alien Impatiens.
Although closely related, Impatiens glandulifera and Impatiens balfourii differ in their invasiveness in Europe; only the former is highly invasive there. Following the assumptions of the enemy release hypothesis (ERH), we tested whether these differences may be explained by the levels of seed infestation by pathogenic fungi. Using seeds collected along the Swiss-Italian border, we recorded four true pathogens of seeds: Fusarium culmorum, F. oxysporum, F. sporotrichoides, and Giberella avenacea. In Italy the seeds of I. balfourii were infected by fungal pathogens more often than those of I. glandulifera, while in Switzerland both species were under the same level of pressure. However, the overall differences in pathogen abundance were consistent with the ERH: seeds of the more invasive species were attacked less. This could be a result of differences between the communities of fungal pathogens attacking the seeds of both species in each country. The number of colonies of secondary pathogens (Cladosporium cladosporioides, Alternaria alternata) correlated negatively with the number of colonies of true pathogens; we suggest that the secondary pathogens may have prevented the occurrence of the true pathogens. The reason for the between-country differences in the fungal pathogen communities is unclear. A possible explanation is that Italy and Switzerland differ in their road and green-area maintenance work schemes, which may have influenced pathogen pressure on seeds. This study is one of the few that offers results indicating that release from enemies may be crucial to the invasion success of plants as early as the seed stage.