Higher Allocation to Low Cost Chemical Defenses in Invasive Species of Hawaii

Josep Peñuelas, J. Sardans, J. Llusia, S. M. Owen, J. Silva, Ü Niinemets

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    26 Citations (Scopus)


    The capacity to produce carbon-based secondary compounds (CBSC), such as phenolics (including tannins) and terpenes as defensive compounds against herbivores or against neighboring competing plants can be involved in the competition between alien and native plant species. Since the Hawaiian Islands are especially vulnerable to invasions by alien species, we compared total phenolic (TP), total tannin (Tta), and total terpene (TT) leaf contents of alien and native plants on Oahu Island (Hawaii). We analyzed 35 native and 38 alien woody plant species randomly chosen among representative current Hawaiian flora. None of these CBSC exhibited phylogenetic fingerprinting. Alien species had similar leaf TP and leaf Tta contents, and 135% higher leaf TT contents compared with native species. Alien plants had 80% higher leaf TT:N leaf content ratio than native plants. The results suggest that apart from greater growth rate and greater nutrient use, alien success in Oahu also may be linked to greater contents of low cost chemical defenses, such as terpenes, as expected in faster-growing species in resource rich regions. The higher TT contents in aliens may counterbalance their lower investment in leaf structural defenses and their higher leaf nutritional quality. The higher TT provides higher effectiveness in deterring the generalist herbivores of the introduced range, where specialist herbivores are absent. In addition, higher TT contents may favor aliens conferring higher protection against abiotic and biotic stressors. The higher terpene accumulation was independent of the alien species origin, which indicates that being alien either selects for higher terpene contents post-invasion, or that species with high terpene contents are pre-adapted to invasiveness. Although less likely, an originally lower terpene accumulation in Hawaiian than in continental plants that avoids the increased attraction of specialist enemies associated to terpenes may not be discarded. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1255-1270
    JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010


    • Alien species
    • Chemical defenses
    • Hawaii
    • Invasive species
    • LMA
    • Nitrogen
    • Phenolics
    • Phosphorus
    • Phylogeny
    • Physical defenses
    • Tannins
    • Terpenes


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