Seedlings of the invasive strawberry guava Psidium cattleianum were more sensitive to defoliation than the closely related Malagasy native Eugenia goviala in a simulated herbivory experiment.
The success of non-native plants in their recipient environments is often attributed to their relatively lower herbivorous attack (i.e., leaf damage). However, whether non-native plants are inherently more tolerant to leaf damage than native ones remains unclear. We conducted a field experiment to test the effects of clipping (25%, 50%, and 75% leaf area loss) on growth (stem height and production of new leaves) of the natural regenerations of invasive strawberry guava Psidium cattleianum (Myrtaceae) and its closely related native, Eugenia goviala (VU, Myrtaceae,), in a degraded forest in Andasibe, Madagascar. Each clipped individual was paired with a neighboring control (0% defoliation). Survival rates after 105 days were high (>93%) for both species and were not related to clipping levels. Eugenia goviala increased stem growth by 98% at 25% clipping but exhibited no response at higher clipping levels. Clipping tended to reduce stem growth in P. cattleianum but effects were only significant at 75% defoliation (46% reduction in stem growth). Defoliation did not affect the production of new leaves but we detected a tendency for P. cattleianum to produce fewer leaves at higher clipping levels. These results indicate a higher sensitivity to defoliation in the invasive strawberry guava compared to its close native relative E. goviala, which does not support the hypothesis that non-native plant species are more tolerant to leaf damage than native ones. Heavy defoliation can represent a substitute for mechanical control of the strawberry guava. Future studies should focus on identifying suitable native herbivores as part of an integrated control program for this invasive species.