Exploring the role of soil types on defense and fitness traits of silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium), a worldwide invasive species through a field survey in the native range.
Silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is a highly successful invasive weed that has caused agricultural losses both in its home and invaded ranges. Surveying 50 sub-populations over 36,000 km2 in its native range in South Texas, we investigated the interactions among soil type, population size, plant height, herbivory, and plant defenses in its home range with the expectation that populations growing in the plant's preferred sandier soils would host larger colonies of healthier and better defended plants. At each sampling location, on randomly selected plants, we measured height, insect herbivore damage, and presence, and density of internode spines. Soil type was determined using the NRCS Web Soil Survey and primarily grouped into sand, clay, or urban. Our results show a tradeoff between growth and defense with larger colonies and taller plants in clay soils, but smaller colonies of shorter, spinier plants in sandy soils. We also observed decreased herbivory in urban soils, further confirming the plant's ability to survive and even be strengthened by highly disturbed conditions. This study is a starting point for a better understanding of silverleaf nightshade's ecology in its home range and complicates the assumption that it thrives best in sandy soils.