, Volume 8, Issue 7, pp 1535-1545

Testing the enemy release hypothesis: a review and meta-analysis

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Abstract

One of the most cited hypotheses explaining the inordinate success of a small proportion of introduced plants that become pests is the ‘natural enemies hypothesis’. This states that invasive introduced plants spread rapidly because they are liberated from their co-evolved natural enemies. This hypothesis had not been properly tested until recently. Previous reviews on this topic have been narrative and vote counting in nature. In this review, we carried out quantitative synthesis and meta-analysis using existing literature on plants and their herbivores to test the different components of the enemy release hypothesis. We found supporting evidence in that (1) insect herbivore fauna richness is significantly greater in the native than introduced ranges, and the reduction is skewed disproportionally towards specialists and insects feeding on reproductive parts; and (2) herbivore damage levels are greater on native plants than on introduced invasive congeners. However, herbivore damage levels are only marginally greater for plants in native than in introduced ranges, probably due to the small numbers of this type of study. Studies quantifying herbivore impacts on plant population dynamics are too scarce to make conclusions for either comparison of plants in native vs introduced ranges or of co-occurring native and introduced congeners. For future research, we advocate that more than two-way comparisons between plants in native and introduced ranges, or native and introduced congeners are needed. In addition, the use of herbivore exclusions to quantify the impacts of herbivory on complete sets of population vital rates of native vs introduced species are highly desirable. Furthermore, three-way comparisons among congeners of native plants, introduced invasive, and introduced non-invasive plants can also shed light on the importance of enemy release. Finally, simultaneously testing the enemy release hypothesis and other competing hypotheses will provide significant insights into the mechanisms governing the undesirable success of invasive species.