Exotic consumers interact with exotic plants to mediate native plant survival in a Midwestern forest herb layer
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- Hahn, P.G. & Dornbush, M.E. Biol Invasions (2012) 14: 449. doi:10.1007/s10530-011-0089-5
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Consumer-facilitated invasions have been proposed as an alternative mechanism to direct competitive exclusion to explain the replacement of native plants by exotics. In a factorial field experiment manipulating competition from the exotic plant Alliaria petiolata and herbivory by exotic mollusks, we documented that mollusk herbivory significantly reduced the survival of two species of native palatable plants, but found minimal direct herbivore effects on less palatable species, including the invasive A. petiolata. These effects were evident after one growing season on younger juvenile plants of Aster cordifolius, but only after two growing seasons on older transplants of the same species, suggesting a greater vulnerability of young plants. In contrast to our expectations, A. petiolata competition alone had no effect on any of the six native species we tested. However, competition from A. petiolata did affect the survival of the most palatable native plant when mollusks were also present. While not significant for any other single species, this same pattern was observed for three of the five remaining native species tested. The selective grazing on palatable plants that we document provides novel evidence contributing to our understanding of observed shifts in the forest herbaceous layer towards the dominance of exotic plants and unpalatable species. More broadly, our results highlight the importance of the interactive effect of consumers and inter-specific competition in forest understories via its contribution to differential survival among regenerating species.