Associational interactions between urban trees: are native neighbors better than non-natives?
This project investigated associational interactions (associational resistance or susceptibility) between native and non-native trees commonly found in urban landscapes in the southeastern United States. Non-native plants offer limited ecological services because few native herbivore species are capable of feeding on them. In a 2-yr field study, abundance and species richness of caterpillars, plant damage, and herbivore natural enemies were evaluated in plots where a native red maple (Acer rubrum L. [Sapindales: Aceraceae]) was planted singly (no neighbors) or interplanted with either non-native non-congeneric crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica L. [Myrtales: Lythraceae]), non-native congeneric Norway maples (Acer platanoides L. [Sapindales: Aceraceae]), or other red maples. Dryocampa rubicunda Fabricius (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) accounted for most of the damage and caterpillar abundance. There were few significant differences between treatment groups in the establishment year of 2014, but in 2015 there was greater tree defoliation, caterpillar abundance, and caterpillar species richness when red maples were surrounded by crepe myrtles. We describe this as a biological fence effect in which the presence of crepe myrtle causes caterpillars to accumulate on the focal red maples over multiple generations. Red maples interplanted with Norway maple neighbors hosted an intermediate abundance and species richness of caterpillars compared to red maples interplanted with crepe myrtles and those with other red maples, indicating a spillover of herbivores to the related maple. No significant trends in insect natural enemy abundance or diversity between treatment groups were detected. These results highlight the necessity of considering plant associational interactions in context of species origin to alleviate pest outbreaks and develop sustainable landscape designs.