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Invasive exotic plants helped by natural enemies

ost continents, many of the resident herbivores have been hunted to extinction by early settlers, often times to make room for their own domesticated and feral herbivores from the old world," said Parker.

He also noted that this radical shift in herbivore composition may favor exotic plants over natives.

Recent research, including a paper authored by Parker in Ecology Letters last year, suggests that native herbivores actually prefer to eat exotic plants over native plants. This research proposes that since the exotic plants haven't yet adapted to the threats posed by native plant eaters, they may not have the right defenses and are often easier prey than the native herbivores' usual meal.

Moreover, most previous assessments of this "natural enemies hypothesis," have focused on the effect that specialized insects have on plants. However, Parker notes that insects commonly reduce plant growth and biomass, but vertebrate herbivores are often larger and thus more commonly kill plants outright. Because of this, vertebrate herbivores often have a stronger impact on plant communities.

The study's findings have serious implications for conserving ecosystems and reducing the economic damage that invasive exotic species cause.

"Restoring native vertebrate herbivores to their natural ranges, while reducing the number of exotic herbivores, could be an effective tool in reducing invasive exotic plants," said Parker.


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Source:Georgia Institute of Technology


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