Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Peter Stiling


enemy release hypothesis, Eugenia uniflora, herbivore exclusion, Myllocerus undatus, seedling performance, Surinam cherry


The overwhelming majority of plant species introduced into a new range never become invasive. Consequently, identification of factors allowing the small fraction of successful invaders to naturalize, increase in abundance, and displace resident species continues to be a key area of research in invasion biology. Of the considerable number of hypotheses that have been proposed to resolve why some plant species become noxious pests, the enemy release hypothesis (ERH) is one of the most commonly cited. The ERH maintains that invasive plants succeed in a new range because they are no longer regulated by their coevolved natural enemies, and this reduction in enemy pressure imparts a competitive advantage over native species, which continue to be negatively impacted by top-down processes. Alternatively, the ability of invasive plant species to outperform their counterparts, rather than escape from enemies, may be key in conferring invasion success. The importance of preadapted traits and release from natural enemies in successful invasion remains unclear, likely owing to a lack of empirical studies comparing their effects on relative performance and population growth of closely related species that differ in origin and invasiveness. A system of co-occurring native, introduced non-invasive, and invasive Eugenia congeners exists in south Florida, providing an opportunity to address deficiencies in our understanding of plant invasions by investigating the factors leading to invasion success for Eugenia uniflora. This approach is novel because very few studies have simultaneously incorporated both native and introduced non-invasive congeners into tests of these hypotheses, and no others have done so using this system of Eugenia congeners.

The first study in this dissertation tested the ERH using an insect herbivore exclusion experiment in the field to compare the effects of natural enemies on the performance and population growth of Eugenia uniflora and its native congeners. The results showed that E. uniflora sustained more herbivore damage than its native counterparts, and that the effects of herbivores were sufficient to have negative impacts on performance and population growth. In sum, these findings contradict the ERH. Surprisingly, the vast majority of damage to E. uniflora was caused by the recently introduced Sri Lankan weevil (Myllocerus undatus), with which it shares no coevolutionary history. The second study compared seedling performance among native, introduced non-invasive, and invasive Eugenia congeners to determine if the success of E. uniflora can be attributed to superior performance traits. Invasive E. uniflora was found to outperform its native and introduced non-invasive counterparts in a number of seedling traits, including emergence, growth, and survival, in spite of sustaining higher levels of herbivore damage in the field. This result was consistent across years and sites, suggesting that superior performance may be an important factor in invasion success by E. uniflora. The final experiment investigated the role of enemy release on performance of native, introduced non-invasive, and introduced invasive Eugenia seedlings using an insect herbivore exclusion experiment in the field. In this study, the invasive E. uniflora was again found to sustain more damage by foliar herbivores compared to its native and introduced non-invasive counterparts. However, in spite of higher levels of herbivore damage, E. uniflora continued to outperform its congeners in terms of stem growth, and its congeners did not outperform E. uniflora in any attribute. Insect herbivores negatively affected survival of all species, but were found to have little effect on growth. In combination, the results of these studies indicate that the ability of E. uniflora to outperform its native and introduced congeners at the seedling stage, and not release from insect herbivores, may contribute to its success as an invader. Additionally, E. uniflora exhibits relatively low resistance to herbivory in the new range, and instead may possess an ability to tolerate moderate levels of damage. The implications of this study are that enemy release may not be important in determining invasion success in some systems, and that the accumulation of new enemies may mitigate the effects of invasive plants over time. The paucity of studies investigating interactions among invasive plants and herbivores that share no coevolutionary history warrants further research. Finally, this system of Eugenia congeners provides valuable opportunities to test additional hypotheses and to further explore factors leading to invasion success.