Skip to main content

Herbivore accumulation on invasive alien plants increases the distribution range of generalist herbivorous insects and supports proliferation of non-native insect pests


Invasive alien plant species have become dominant components of many landscapes, where they are indicators of ecological disequilibria. They coexist and compete with native plants, disrupting a wide range of trophic interactions, and must cope with a new array of herbivores. We examined factors influencing the occurrence of invertebrate herbivores on two invasive alien plant species, Acacia dealbata and Carpobrotus edulis, and surrounding native vegetation in the northwestern Iberian Peninsula. The aims were to assess the accumulation of herbivorous insects, including the distribution and frequency of herbivorous insects at different invasion levels (low, medium and high), and to evaluate whether introduced plants favour native or exotic, and generalist or specialist herbivorous insects in newly evolving plant–herbivore networks. To achieve these objectives, we surveyed A. dealbata along transects in five mixed pine forests and four shrublands, and C. edulis in nine coastal areas using quadrats. We identified nine herbivore species feeding on one or both of these species and determined that herbivore species composition in forest and coastal areas is directly tied to host preference, as well as related to invasion levels of A. dealbata in forest areas. On average, the introduced species in both the forest and coastal areas had approximately threefold more herbivore species (~ 50% of them exotics) than native plants. The introduced plants in forest areas had approximately eightfold more species interaction strength between herbivores and plants (a measure of the importance of each plant species to each herbivore). Overall, generalist herbivores were favoured by the invasion of the introduced plants. The results also demonstrate that exotic insects are supported by introduced plants, increasing the local occurrence and range of insect pests. Considering our observations, management strategies should be implemented to favour the restoration and protection of native areas for conserving biodiversity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


Download references


This work was funded by Xunta de Galicia, Spain (CITACA Strategic Partnership, Reference: ED431E 2018/07). JR was supported by a research contract (GRC2015/012) from the Xunta de Galicia/FEDER, Consellería de Educación y Ordenación Universitaria. This research was partially carried out within the framework of the project “Retos en la gestión de la planta invasora Carpobrotus edulis. Variabilidad fenotípica y cambios en la relación suelo-planta durante el proceso de invasion” (in Spanish), Reference CGL2013-48885-C2-1-R, funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competence (Spanish Government). The authors are grateful to the staff of the Laboratory of Plant Ecophysiology (University of Vigo) for the field support, Dr. Josefina Garrido for the help in the identification of species, and Dr. Ruben Heleno for help and advice in ecological network analysis. We wish to thank the reviewers and the Editor for their helpful and insightful comments that we feel have substantially improved our manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonatan Rodríguez.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 7577 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rodríguez, J., Thompson, V., Rubido-Bará, M. et al. Herbivore accumulation on invasive alien plants increases the distribution range of generalist herbivorous insects and supports proliferation of non-native insect pests. Biol Invasions 21, 1511–1527 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Acacia dealbata
  • Biotic resistance
  • Carpobrotus edulis
  • Ecological networks
  • Plant–insect interactions
  • Spittlebugs