Biogeography of a plant invasion: drivers of latitudinal variation in enemy release

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Aim: The relationship between herbivory and latitude may differ between native and invasive plant taxa, which can generate biogeographical heterogeneity in the strength of enemy release. Our aim was to compare latitudinal gradients in herbivory between native and invasive plants and investigate whether gradients are driven by local adaptation or phenotypic plasticity. Location: North America. Methods: Using sympatric native and invasive lineages of the wetland grass Phragmites australis and the specialist gall-fly Lipara rufitarsis, we conducted a field survey to examine whether the relationship between herbivory (the proportion of stems galled) and latitude was parallel between lineages. In a subsequent common garden experiment, we assessed whether latitudinal gradients in herbivory were genetically based or driven by phenotypic plasticity. Results: In the field, L. rufitarsis herbivory on the native P. australis lineage increased from 27% of stems galled in southern populations (36.5°) to 37% in northern populations (43.6°), whereas there was no relationship for the invasive lineage. Similar relationships were evident in the common garden experiment, indicating a genetic basis to latitudinal variation in herbivory. Moreover, the invasive lineage suffered five times less herbivory than the native lineage on average, supporting the enemy release hypothesis. However, a genetic basis to this pattern was absent in the common garden experiment, suggesting that local environmental conditions were responsible for the enemy release observed in nature. Specifically, stem height, diameter and density during the L. rufitarsis oviposition period appeared to be important drivers of herbivory. Main conclusions: Non-parallel gradients in herbivory may help explain the equivocal results of other studies that examine enemy release and biotic resistance at local scales, and can be an important mechanism promoting biogeographical variation in invasion success. We suggest that these latitudinal patterns in herbivory and other species interactions are likely to be a common phenomenon across a range of invaded systems.

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Global Ecology and Biogeography