An important hypothesis for how plants respond to introduction to new ranges is the evolution of increased competitive ability (EICA). EICA predicts that biogeographical release from natural enemies initiates a trade-off in which exotic species in non-native ranges become larger and more competitive, but invest less in consumer defences, relative to populations in native ranges. This trade-off is exceptionally complex because detecting concomitant biogeographical shifts in competitive ability and consumer defence depends upon which traits are targeted, how competition is measured, the defence chemicals quantified, whether defence chemicals do more than defend, whether ‘herbivory’ is artificial or natural, and where consumers fall on the generalist-specialist spectrum. Previous meta-analyses have successfully identified patterns but have yet to fully disentangle this complexity. We used meta-analysis to reevaluate traditional metrics used to test EICA theory and then expanded on these metrics by partitioning competitive effect and competitive tolerance measures and testing Leaf-Specific Mass in detail as a response trait. Unlike previous syntheses, our meta-analyses detected evidence consistent with the classic trade-off inherent to EICA. Plants from non-native ranges imposed greater competitive effects than plants from native ranges and were less quantitatively defended than plants from native ranges. Our results for defence were not based on complex leaf chemistry, but instead were estimated from tannins, toughness traits and primarily Leaf-Specific Mass. Species specificity occurred but did not influence the general patterns. As for all evidence for EICA-like trade-offs, we do not know if the biogeographical differences we found were caused by trade-offs per se, but they are consistent with predictions derived from the overarching hypothesis. Underestimating physical leaf structure may have contributed to two decades of tepid perspectives on the trade-offs fundamental to EICA.
- evolution of increased competitive ability
- shifting defence hypothesis