History of exposure to herbivores increases the compensatory ability of an invasive plant
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- Lu, X. & Ding, J. Biol Invasions (2012) 14: 649. doi:10.1007/s10530-011-0106-8
Release from natural enemies is frequently cited as an important factor contributing to plant invasions. But such effects are likely to be temporary—native herbivores can form new plant-herbivore associations and co-evolved insects might reach the new range. While the potential effects of the initial enemy release have been well studied, the consequences of any resumption of herbivory are poorly understood. Alternanthera philoxeroides is one of the most widespread invasive plants in China and is attacked both by a specialist herbivore introduced from the native range, Agasicles hygrophila, and a native beetle Cassida piperata Hope which has formed a new association. However, these insects are not found throughout the invaded range. To test the effect of the history of population exposure to herbivory on compensatory ability, plants were cultured from 14 populations around China that differed in whether A. hygrophila or C. piperata were present. Treatment plants were exposed to herbivory by A. hygrophila for a week until 50% of the leaf area was defoliated, then grown for 80 days. Plants from populations with prior exposure to herbivory (of any kind) accumulated more root mass than populations without prior exposure, indicating that prior exposure to insects can stimulate plant compensation to herbivory. We would recommend that potential changes in plant tolerance in response to prior exposure to herbivory are considered in invasive plant management plans that employ bio-control agents.