Lesser leaf herbivore damage and structural defense and greater nutrient concentrations for invasive alien plants: evidence from 47 pairs of invasive and non-invasive plants.
Empirical evidence of enemy release is still inconsistent for invasive alien plant species, although enemy release is the key assumption for both the enemy release hypothesis (ERH) and the evolution of increased competitive ability hypothesis (EICA). In addition, little effort has been made to test this assumption in terms of defense investment using a multi-species comparative approach. Using a phylogenetically controlled within-study meta-analytical approach, we compared leaf herbivore damage, structural defenses and nutrients between 47 pairs of invasive versus native and/or non-invasive alien plants in China. The invasive relative to the co-occurring native or non-invasive (native and non-invasive alien) plants incurred lesser leaf herbivore damage, had lesser leaf concentrations of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin and carbon, lesser leaf density and carbon or lignin to nitrogen ratio but greater nutrients, which may facilitate success of the invasive plants. The lesser structural investment did not result in lesser leaf construction costs for the invaders, which may be associated with their greater leaf nitrogen concentration. However, the invasive plants were not significantly different from the non-invasive alien plants in any trait. Our results provide strong evidence for ERH, also are consistent with EICA, and indicate that enemy release may be an important factor in alien plant invasions.