Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1247–1263 | Cite as

Deer feeding selectivity for invasive plants

  • Kristine M. Averill
  • David A. Mortensen
  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
  • Eric Post
Original Paper


Native generalist herbivores might limit plant invasion by consuming invading plants or enhance plant invasion by selectively avoiding them. The role of herbivores in plant invasion has been investigated in relation to plant native/introduced status, however, a knowledge gap exists about whether food selection occurs according to native/introduced status or to species. We tested preference of the native herbivore white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) for widespread and frequently occurring invasive introduced and native plants in the northeastern United States. Multiple-choice deer preference trials were conducted for the species and relative preference was determined using biomass consumption and feeding behavior. While more native than introduced plant biomass was consumed overall, deer food selection varied strongly by plant species. Results show consistent deer avoidance of several invasive introduced plants (Alliaria petiolata, Berberis thunbergii, and Microstegium vimineum) and a native plant (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). Other invasive introduced plants (Celastrus orbiculatus, Ligustrum vulgare, and Lonicera morrowii) and a native plant (Acer rubrum) were highly preferred. These results provide evidence that herbivore impacts on plant invaders depend on plant species palatability. Consequently, herbivore selectivity likely plays an important role in the invasion process. To the extent that herbivory impacts population demographics, these results suggest that native generalist herbivores promote enemy release of some plant invaders by avoiding them and contribute to biotic resistance of others by consuming them.


Plant invasion Herbivore–plant interactions Palatability Biotic resistance Enemy release 



The authors thank Don Wagner for facilitating and helping to undertake experimentation at the Penn State Deer Research Center; Sadie Smith, Katy Barlow, Ian Grahm, Dave Sandy, and Matt Ryan, who helped conduct deer preference trials and/or analyze videos; and the Weed Ecology Labs at Penn State and Cornell University for their ongoing support. The authors also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful input, which improved this manuscript. Financial support for this work was provided by The United States Department of Agriculture National Needs Program Grant #2008-38420-18722.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants. All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. The authors declare that experiments complied with the current laws of the country in which the experiments were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristine M. Averill
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • David A. Mortensen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
    • 2
    • 3
  • Eric Post
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Plant ScienceThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in EcologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeographyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  5. 5.Soil and Crop SciencesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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