Defoliation of Centaurea solstitialis stimulates compensatory growth and intensifies negative effects on neighbors

Ragan M. Callaway, Judy Kim, Bruce E. Mahall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Efforts to arrest the spread of invasive weeds with herbivory may be hindered by weak effects of the herbivores or strong compensatory responses of the invaders. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to study the effects of defoliation and soil fungi on competition between the invasive weed Centaurea solstitialis and C. solstitialis and Avena barbata, a naturalized Eurasian annual grass, and Nassella pulchra, a native California bunchgrass. Surprisingly, considering the explosive invasion of grasslands by C. solstitialis, Avena and Nassella were strong competitors and reduced the invader's biomass by 80.2% and 80.1% over all defoliation and soil fungicide treatments, respectively. However, our experiments were conducted in artificial environments where competition was probably accentuated. When fungicide was applied to the soil, the biomass of C. solstitialis was reduced in all treatment combinations, but reduction in the biomass of the invader had no corollary impact on the grasses. There was no overall effect of defoliation on the final biomass of C. solstitialis as the invader compensated fully for severe clipping. In fact, the directional trend of the clipping effect was +6.4% over all treatments after eight weeks. A significant neighbor x soil fungicide x clipping effect suggested that the compensatory response was the strongest without soil fungicide and when C. solstitialis was alone (+ 19%). Our key finding was that the compensatory response of C. solstitialis in all treatments was associated with an increase in the weed's negative effects on Nassella and Avena - there was a significant decrease in the total biomass of both grasses and the reproductive biomass of Avena in pots with clipped C. solstitialis. Our results were obtained in controlled conditions that may have been conducive to compensatory growth, but they suggest the existence of mechanisms that may allow C. solstitialis, like other Centaurea species, to resist herbivory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1389-1397
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Centaurea solstitialis
  • Compensatory growth
  • Defoliation
  • Exotic plants
  • Grasslands
  • Herbivory
  • Invasion
  • Soil fungi


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