Native parasitic plants: biological control for plant invasions?
Plant invasions cause biodiversity loss and degradation in ecosystems worldwide. The invasive species involved may be introduced, or native invaders, and controlling them is a major global challenge. Here, we highlight an emerging role for native parasitic plants in suppressing invasive species, thus aiding in restoration of affected habitats. Compelling empirical evidence is provided by three study systems located in Central Europe, southern Australia and eastern China. Further cases of parasitism of invasive plants have been recorded across five continents. We propose including the interactions between parasitic and invasive plants into the theoretical framework of the biotic resistance hypothesis concerning generalist interactions between invaders and native biota. Among parasitic plants, numerous root hemiparasites, mistletoes and parasitic vines show low host specificity and exert substantial negative effects on their hosts. These parasitic plants may interfere with key traits of invaders such as symbiotic nitrogen fixation or clonal propagation which provide them with competitive advantage over native species. We contend that some parasitic plants may present a cost-effective environmentally sustainable component of invasion management schemes. Therefore, we encourage exploration of this potential and the development of methods for practical applications in ecological restoration and nature conservation.