The natural enemies hypothesis has led to a number of ideas by which invaders might evolve superior competitive ability. In this context, we compared growth, reproduction, competitive effect, competitive response, and defense capabilities between invasive North American populations of Centaurea maculosa and populations in Europe, where the species is native. We found that Centaurea from North America were larger than plants from European populations. North American Centaurea also demonstrated stronger competitive effects and responses than European Centaurea. However, competitive superiority did not come at a cost to herbivore defense. North American plants were much better defended against generalist insect herbivores and slightly better defended against specialists. North Americans showed a stronger inhibitory effect on the consumers (resistance) and a better ability to regrow after attack by herbivores (tolerance). Better defense by North Americans corresponded with higher constitutive levels of a biochemical defense compound precursor, tougher leaves, and more leaf trichomes than Europeans. North American F1 progeny of field collected lines retained the traits of larger size and greater leaf toughness suggesting that genetic differences, rather than maternal effects, may be the cause of intercontinental differences, but these sample sizes were small. Our results suggest that the evolution of increased competitive ability may not always be driven by physiological trade-offs between the allocation of energy or resources to growth or to defense. Instead, we hypothesize that Centaurea maculosa experiences strong directional selection on novel competitive and defense traits in its new range.
- Centaurea maculosa
- Evolution of increased competitive ability
- Novel weapons