Could enemy release explain invasion success of Sagittaria platyphylla in Australia and South Africa?
Sagittaria platyphylla (delta arrowhead) is an emergent aquatic macrophyte native to southeastern United States of America that has been introduced into Australia and South Africa as an ornamental pond and aquarium plant. Compared to plants in the native range, S. platyphylla in the introduced range have greater reproductive capacity and form extensive infestations that dominate shallow waterbodies. One explanation for the invasive success of S. platyphylla in introduced countries is that plants are devoid of biotic pressures that would regulate population abundance in their native range (the enemy release hypothesis). We previously reported on field surveys that documented the number of pathogens and insect herbivores associated with S. platyphylla in native and introduced ranges. Here, we quantify the damage caused by these natural enemies to S. platyphylla in the two ranges. As predicted, damage to plants caused by pathogens and insect herbivores was much greater in the native than the introduced range at both the plant and population level. In introduced regions herbivory was low (less than 10%) in every plant part, while in North America insect damage to fruiting heads was 46% (of fruiting heads attacked), damage to leaves was between 33 to 57%, and internal herbivore damage to petioles and the inflorescence scapes was 56% and 43% respectively. Pathogen damage to leaves was between 39 to 57% of leaves per plant affected, compared to 9% in Australia and 8% in South Africa. This lack of biotic resistance from herbivores and disease may have facilitated S. platyphylla invasion in Australia and South Africa.