Interactions between invasive plants and insect herbivores: A plea for a multitrophic perspective

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Invasive species represent one of the most important threats to biodiversity worldwide, with consequences for ecosystem functioning and the delivery of important ecological services to society. Several hypotheses have been generated to explain the success of exotic plants in their new ranges, with escape from their old natural enemies, such as pathogens and herbivores (the ‘enemy release hypothesis’) and novel defensive chemistry (the ‘novel weapons hypothesis’) receiving considerable attention. Thus far, virtually all studies of exotic plants and insects have been conducted in a strictly bi-trophic framework involving plants and herbivores. On the other hand, it has been argued that a better understanding of the forces regulating community structure and function should include natural enemies of the herbivores. Furthermore, indirect interactions between organisms in the plant roots (below-ground) and shoots (above-ground) are known to strongly effect the behaviour and performance of consumers in the opposite ‘compartment’. Here, we discuss a range of physiological, evolutionary and ecological aspects of plant–herbivore-natural enemy interactions involving exotic plants. Further, interactions between soil and above-ground organisms are explored with respect to studies with exotic plants. We argue that it is important to link population and community ecology to individual-level variation in the physiology and behaviour of insects across several trophic levels in studies with invasive plants. Future research with invaders should also aim to integrate physically separated compartments (e.g. plant roots and shoots). This will facilitate a more complete understanding of the factors underlying the success (or failure) of exotic plants to spread and become dominant in their new ranges. Moreover, these data will also help to unravel the relative importance of top-down and bottom-up processes in regulating communities in which exotic plants have become established. Lastly, we discuss consequences for conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2251-2259
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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