Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 373–387 | Cite as

Native plant/herbivore interactions as determinants of the ecological and evolutionary effects of invasive mammalian herbivores: the case of the common brushtail possum

Original Paper


In their native range, mammalian herbivores exist in a suite of direct and indirect ecological and evolutionary relationships with plant populations and communities. Outside their native range these herbivores become embedded in a multitude of new ecological and evolutionary interactions with native plant species in the new range. Sound knowledge of the plant/herbivore interactions in the herbivores’ native range provides an ideal framework to better understand their effects in the introduced range. The example of the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and its introduction to New Zealand from Australia provides an excellent case study. In Australia, the common brushtail possum is a widespread generalist herbivore and it is thought that this generalist lifestyle has equipped the species well for successful colonisation of New Zealand. In Australia the brushtail possum has co-existed with highly chemically defended foliage since the Oligocene and recent papers have supported the role of possums as agents of selection on eucalypt defences. While the chemical profile of New Zealand foliage is comparatively poorly understood, possums do show clear selectivity between and within populations and some of these interactions may be mediated by the animals ability to ‘cope’ with PSMs, coupled with maintaining its generalist diet. While possums have had less time to effect evolutionary change in New Zealand species, their impacts on plant fitness have been well documented. However, further knowledge on variation and heritability of foliage traits driving possum preferences is needed to elucidate the ecological and evolutionary plant/possum interactions in the invasive range.


Eucalypts Exotic species Natural selection Plant resistance Plant secondary metabolites Trichosurus vulpecula 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Plant Science and CRC for ForestryUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Landcare Research New ZealandPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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