Phenotypic plasticity of invasive Carpobrotus edulis modulates tolerance against herbivores.
The anthropogenic movement of species has favoured the introduction of invasive plants worldwide. Invasive plants are frequently released from their natural enemies; however, new associations with generalist herbivores may induce defence mechanisms of non-native plants. Defensive traits are often directly related to the highly competitive ability, but also to potential antagonisms and mutualisms that they can establish with soil microorganisms. Here, we examined whether the intraspecific competition and soil microorganisms influence the morphological and physiological traits of Carpobrotus edulis when is being attacked by the native generalist snail Theba pisana. To achieve this, we grew two C. edulis individuals in separate and same pots filled with live or sterile sand, and with or without T. pisana. Our results indicated that herbivory induced an increase of shoot biomass in attacked C. edulis individuals (i.e., treated donor plants), as well as in un-attacked neighbouring individuals co-growing in the same pot (i.e., untreated recipient plants). Nevertheless, intraspecific competition nor soil microorganisms did not affect the growth of C. edulis despite reduced physiological activity and damage caused by the herbivore. Overall, our findings revealed that C. edulis individuals tolerate snail attack by inducing a compensatory growth response. We conclude that phenotypic plasticity of invasive C. edulis favours tolerance against herbivores, but we also suggest that plant-plant interactions probably determine the plant growth of un-attacked neighbouring C. edulis individuals, thus favouring their invasion mechanisms.