Evidence of biotic resistance to exotic plant invasion in degraded Bornean forests
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Intact tropical forests are generally considered to be resistant to invasions by exotic species, although the shrub Clidemia hirta (Melastomataceae) is highly invasive in tropical forests outside its native range. Release from natural enemies (e.g., herbivores and pathogens) contributes to C. hirta invasion success where native melastomes are absent, and here we examine the role of enemies when C. hirta co-occurs with native Melastomataceae species and associated herbivores and pathogens. We study 21 forest sites within agricultural landscapes in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, recording herbivory rates in C. hirta and related native Melastoma spp. plants along two 100-m transects per site that varied in canopy cover. Overall, we found evidence of enemy release; C. hirta had significantly lower herbivory (median occurrence of herbivory per plant = 79% of leaves per plant; median intensity of herbivory per leaf = 6% of leaf area) than native melastomes (93% and 20%, respectively). Herbivory on C. hirta increased when closer to native Melastoma plants with high herbivory damage, and in more shaded locations, and was associated with fewer reproductive organs on C. hirta. This suggests host-sharing by specialist Melastomataceae herbivores is occurring and may explain why invasion success of C. hirta is lower on Borneo than at locations without related native species present. Thus, natural enemy populations may provide a “biological control service” to suppress invasions of exotic species (i.e., biotic resistance). However, lower herbivory pressures in more open canopy locations may make highly degraded forests within these landscapes more susceptible to invasion.
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