Evidence that phylogenetically novel non-indigenous plants experience less herbivory
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The degree to which biotic interactions influence invasion by non-indigenous species may be partly explained by the evolutionary relationship of these invaders with natives. Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis controversially proposes that non-native plants are more likely to invade if they lack close relatives in their new range. A possible mechanism for this pattern is that exotics that are more closely related to natives are more likely to share their herbivores, and thus will suffer more damage than phylogenetically isolated species. We tested this prediction using exotic plants in Ontario, Canada. We measured herbivore damage to 32 species of exotic plants in a common garden experiment, and 52 in natural populations. We estimated their phylogenetic distances from locally occurring natives in three ways: as mean distance (age) to all native plants, mean distance to native members of the same family, and distance to the closest native species. In the common garden, the proportion of leaves damaged and the average proportion of leaf area damaged declined with mean phylogenetic distance to native family relatives by late summer. Distance to native confamilials was a better predictor of damage than distance to the closest native species, while mean distance to the entire native plant community failed to predict damage. No significant patterns were detected for plants in natural populations, likely because uncontrolled site-to-site variation concealed these phylogenetic trends. To the extent that herbivory has negative demographic impacts, these results suggest that exotics that are more phylogenetically isolated from native confamilials should be more invasive; conversely, native communities should be more resistant to invasion if they harbor close familial relatives of potential invaders. However, the large scatter in this relationship suggests that these often are likely to be weak effects; as a result, these effects often may be difficult to detect in uncontrolled surveys of natural populations.