Successful range-expanding plants experience less above-ground and below-ground enemy impact

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Many species are currently moving to higher latitudes and altitudes1,2,3. However, little is known about the factors that influence the future performance of range-expanding species in their new habitats. Here we show that range-expanding plant species from a riverine area were better defended against shoot and root enemies than were related native plant species growing in the same area. We grew fifteen plant species with and without non-coevolved polyphagous locusts and cosmopolitan, polyphagous aphids. Contrary to our expectations, the locusts performed more poorly on the range-expanding plant species than on the congeneric native plant species, whereas the aphids showed no difference. The shoot herbivores reduced the biomass of the native plants more than they did that of the congeneric range expanders. Also, the range-expanding plants developed fewer pathogenic effects4,5 in their root-zone soil than did the related native species. Current predictions forecast biodiversity loss due to limitations in the ability of species to adjust to climate warming conditions in their range6,7,8. Our results strongly suggest that the plants that shift ranges towards higher latitudes and altitudes may include potential invaders, as the successful range expanders may experience less control by above-ground or below-ground enemies than the natives.

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Figure 1: Effects of shoot herbivores and soil feedback on plant biomass.
Figure 2: Relative change in plant biomass due to shoot herbivores and soil feedback.
Figure 3: Performance of herbivores on native and non-native plants.


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We thank Staatsbosbeheer Regio Oost for giving us permission to work in Millingerwaard; B. Odé, K. Groen, R. van Grunsven, P. Brinkman and the late R. van der Meijden for discussions; M. Houtekamer for carbon and nitrogen determination; T. Vos, M. Vlag, A. Weerheijm and W. Smant for assistance; L. Koopman for providing the locusts; and L. Young and E. J. Bakker for advice on statistics. This study was funded by an ALW-VICI grant to W.H.v.d.P.

Author Contributions T.E., E.M., T.M.B., J.A.H. and W.H.v.d.P. designed and analysed the experiment and wrote the manuscript; T.E. and E.M. performed the experiment; W.L.M.T. analysed the long-term floristic dataset and provided the data for selecting plant species; and K.J.F.V., L.M.McI. and A.B. carried out the data analysis and were involved in the writing.

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Correspondence to Wim H. van der Putten.

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Engelkes, T., Morriën, E., Verhoeven, K. et al. Successful range-expanding plants experience less above-ground and below-ground enemy impact. Nature 456, 946–948 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature07474

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