Novel weapons: Invasive success and the evolution of increased competitive ability

Ragan M. Callaway, Wendy M. Ridenour

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1225 Scopus citations


When introduced to new habitats by humans, some plant species become much more dominant. This is primarily attributed to escape from specialist consumers. Release from these specialist enemies is also thought by some to lead to the evolution of increased competitive ability, driven by a decrease in the plant's resource allocation to consumer defense and an increase in allocation to size or fecundity. Here, we discuss a new theory for invasive success ' the "novel weapons hypothesis". We propose that some invaders transform because they possess novel biochemical weapons that function as unusually powerful allelopathic agents, or as mediators of new plant'soil microbial interactions. Root exudates that are relatively ineffective against their natural neighbors because of adaptation, may be highly inhibitory to newly encountered plants in invaded communities. In other words, the novel weapons of some plant invaders provide them with an advantage that may arise from differences in the regional coevolutionary trajectories of plant communities. Furthermore, the selective advantage of possessing a novel weapon may result in rapid evolution of that weapon ' for example, the production of greater quantities of allelopathic or antimicrobial root exudates. Direct selection of competitive traits provides an alternative to the "grow versus defend" trade-offs that underpin the theory of the evolution of increased competitive ability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)436-443
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004


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