, Volume 56, Issue 4, pp 451-468

Can the enemy release hypothesis explain the success of invasive alien predators and parasitoids?

  • H. E. RoyAffiliated withNERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Email author 
  • , L.-J. Lawson HandleyAffiliated withEvolutionary Biology Group, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Hull
  • , K. SchönroggeAffiliated withNERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , R. L. PolandAffiliated withClifton College
  • , B. V. PurseAffiliated withNERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

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Biological invasions are ecologically and economically costly. Understanding the major mechanisms that contribute to an alien species becoming invasive is seen as essential for limiting the effects of invasive alien species. However, there are a number of fundamental questions that need addressing such as why some communities are more vulnerable to invasion than others and, indeed, why some alien species become widespread and abundant. The enemy release hypothesis (ERH) is widely evoked to explain the establishment and proliferation of an alien species. ERH predicts that an alien species introduced to a new region should experience a decrease in regulation by natural enemies which will lead to an increase in the distribution and abundance of the alien species. At the centre of this theory is the assumption that natural enemies are important regulators of populations. Additionally, the theory implies that such natural enemies have a stronger regulatory effect on native species than they do on alien species in the introduced range, and this disparity in enemy regulation results in increased population growth of the alien species. However, empirical evidence for the role of the ERH in invasion success is lacking, particularly for invertebrates. Many studies equate a reduction in the number of natural enemies associated with an alien species to release without studying population effects. Further insight is required in relation to the effects of specific natural enemies on alien and native species (particularly their ability to regulate populations). We review the role of ecological models in exploring ERH. We suggest that recent developments in molecular technologies offer considerable promise for investigating ERH in a community context.


Natural enemy release hypothesis Arthropod predators Parasitoids Modelling Molecular