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Deer feeding selectivity for invasive plants

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Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Kristine M. Averill.

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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.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 4 and Fig. 5.

Table 4 Species sown in May 2011 in the Penn State Deer Research Center paddock used for preference experiments
Fig. 5
figure 5

Relationships between deer browsing behaviors and a leaf biomass consumed and b electivity index for three seasons in multiple-choice preference trials. Data points represent eight invasive introduced species (black diamonds, solid lines) and seven native species (gray squares, dashed lines). Linear regression relationships are shown for native and introduced species groups and are labeled as significant at the α < 0.05 level (asterisk) or as not significant (ns)

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Averill, K.M., Mortensen, D.A., Smithwick, E.A.H. et al. Deer feeding selectivity for invasive plants. Biol Invasions 18, 1247–1263 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-016-1063-z

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