A central question in ecology concerns how some exotic plants that occur at low densities in their native range are able to attain much higher densities where they are introduced. This question has remained unresolved in part due to a lack of experiments that assess factors that affect the population growth or abundance of plants in both ranges. We tested two hypotheses for exotic plant success: escape from specialist insect herbivores and a greater response to disturbance in the introduced range. Within three introduced populations in Montana, USA, and three native populations in Germany, we experimentally manipulated insect herbivore pressure and created small-scale disturbances to determine how these factors affect the performance of houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), a widespread exotic in western North America. Herbivores reduced plant size and fecundity in the native range but had little effect on plant performance in the introduced range. Small-scale experimental disturbances enhanced seedling recruitment in both ranges, but subsequent seedling survival was more positively affected by disturbance in the introduced range. We combined these experimental results with demographic data from each population to parameterize integral projection population models to assess how enemy escape and disturbance might differentially influence C. officinale in each range. Model results suggest that escape from specialist insects would lead to only slight increases in the growth rate (λ) of introduced populations. In contrast, the larger response to disturbance in the introduced vs. native range had much greater positive effects on λ. These results together suggest that, at least in the regions where the experiments were performed, the differences in response to small disturbances by C. officinale contribute more to higher abundance in the introduced range compared to at home. Despite the challenges of conducting experiments on a wide biogeographic scale and the logistical constraints of adequately sampling populations within a range, this approach is a critical step forward to understanding the success of exotic plants.
Copyright 2010 by the Ecological Society of America. Jennifer L. Williams, Harald Auge, and John L. Maron 2010. Testing hypotheses for exotic plant success: parallel experiments in the native and introduced ranges. Ecology 91:1355–1366. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-2142.1.