, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 721-724
Date: 21 May 2009

Native, insect herbivore communities derive a significant proportion of their carbon from a widespread invader of forest understories

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Research on natural enemies demonstrates the potential for exotic plants to be integrated into foodwebs through the activities of native herbivores. The quantitative importance of exotics as a food resource to herbivores is more difficult to ascertain. In addition, some widespread invaders appear to have minimal herbivore loads. Microstegium vimineum is one example. It is an annual, C4 grass that invades forest understories and is widespread across the eastern US. Its invasion alters the structure and composition of forests. We sampled invertebrates in a tree-canopy gap and under canopy area, and used the unique carbon isotope value of M. vimineum to estimate the quantitative importance of the invader as a food resource relative to native plants. Seven of the eight invertebrate species derived on average >35% of their biomass carbon from M. vimineum, and some individuals representing both ‘chewing’ and ‘sucking’ feeding guilds derived their biomass carbon exclusively from M. vimineum. Our results show that M. vimineum can be a significant food resource for a multi-species, multi-guild, assemblage of native, invertebrate herbivores. Future work is required to assess whether M. vimineum is acquiring herbivores in other parts of its introduced range, and if so what might be the ecological consequences.