Plant-herbivore interactions : consequences for the structure of freshwater communities and exotic plant invasions

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Parker, John D.
Hay, Mark E.
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Invasive exotic species threaten native biodiversity, alter ecosystem structure and function, and annually cost over $100 billion in the US alone. Determining the ecological traits and interactions that affect invasion success are thus critical for predicting, preventing, and mitigating the negative effects of biological invasions. Native herbivores are widely assumed to facilitate exotic plant invasions by preferentially consuming native plants and avoiding exotic plants. Here, I use freshwater plant communities scattered broadly across the Southeastern U.S. to show that herbivory is an important force driving the ecology and evolution of freshwater systems. However, native consumers often preferentially consume rather than avoid exotic over native plants. Analyses of 3 terrestrial datasets showed similar patterns, with native herbivores generally preferring exotic plants. Thus, exotic plants appear defensively nave against these evolutionarily novel consumers, and exotic plants may escape their coevolved, specialist herbivores only to be preferentially consumed by the native generalist herbivores in their new ranges. In further support of this hypothesis, a meta-analysis of 71 manipulative field studies including over 100 exotic plant species and 400 native plant species from terrestrial, aquatic, and marine systems revealed that native herbivores strongly suppressed exotic plants, while exotic herbivores enhanced the abundance and species richness of exotic plants by suppressing native plants. Both outcomes are consistent with the hypothesis that prey are susceptible to evolutionarily novel consumers. Thus, native herbivores provide biotic resistance to plant invasions, but the widespread replacement of native with exotic herbivores eliminates this ecosystem service, facilitates plant invasions, and triggers an invasional meltdown. Consequently, rather than thriving because they escape their co-evolved specialist herbivores, exotic plants may thrive because their co-evolved generalist herbivores have stronger negative effects on evolutionarily nave, native plants.
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