Plant invasions, generalist herbivores, and novel defense weapons

Urs Schaffner, Wendy M. Ridenour, Vera C. Wolf, Thomas Bassett, Caroline Müller, Heinz Müller-Schärer, Steve Sutherland, Christopher J. Lortie, Ragan M. Callaway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One commonly accepted mechanism for biological invasions is that species, after introduction to a new region, leave behind their natural enemies and therefore increase in distribution and abundance. However, which enemies are escaped remains unclear. Escape from specialist invertebrate herbivores has been examined in detail, but despite the profound effects of generalist herbivores in natural communities their potential to control invasive species is poorly understood. We carried out parallel laboratory feeding bioassays with generalist invertebrate herbivores from the native (Europe) and from the introduced (North America) range using native and nonnative tetraploid populations of the invasive spotted knapweed, Centaurea stoebe. We found that the growth of North American generalist herbivores was far lower when feeding on C. stoebe than the growth of European generalists. In contrast, North American and European generalists grew equally well on European and North American tetraploid C. stoebe plants, lending no support for an evolutionary change in resistance of North American tetraploid C. stoebe populations against generalist herbivores. These results suggest that biogeographical differences in the response of generalist herbivores to novel plant species have the potential to affect plant invasions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-835
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Biological invasions
  • Biotic resistance
  • Enemy release
  • Evolution of increased competitive ability
  • Herbivorous invertebrates
  • Novel associations
  • Plant-herbivore interactions


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