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Strong feeding preference of an exotic generalist herbivore for an exotic forb: a case of invasional antagonism


Many hypotheses dealing with the success of invasive plant species concern plant–herbivore interactions. The invasional meltdown and enemy inversion hypotheses suggest that non-native herbivores may indirectly facilitate the invasion of a non-native plant species by either favorably changing environmental conditions or reducing competition from native plant species. Our objective was to determine the role of herbivory by the non-native snail Otala lactea in structuring California grassland communities. We conducted two experiments to examine the feeding preferences of O. lactea for eight representative grassland species. Overall, O. lactea preferred Brassica nigra, a non-native forb, over all other species tested. Field monocultures of B. nigra supported significantly higher snail densities than monocultures of any of the other species tested. O. lactea also preferred B. nigra over all other species tested in controlled laboratory feeding trials. However, based on trait comparisons of each of the eight grassland species, we cannot pinpoint the preference for B. nigra to a basic nutritional requirement on the part of the herbivore or an allocation to defense on the part of the plants. Our study provides evidence for an antagonistic relationship between a non-native herbivore and a non-native plant species in their invasive range. We term this relationship “invasional antagonism”.

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