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Native plant eaters have gourmet palates

Here's a test. Take a crayfish, offer it two meals one the native plants that it eats everyday, the other a gourmet meal of a similar, but exotic species of plant. Conventional biological wisdom predicts it will stick with the tried and true. But new research at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that plant eaters may be more adventurous than previously thought and prefer to nosh on exotic meals by a ratio of three to one. The findings, which appear in the September issue of Ecology Letters, could point the way to better strategies for controlling the billions of dollars in damage that invasive species cause every year.

The research runs counter to the enemy release hypothesis, first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859, which holds that exotic species become invasive because they are free from the pressures of being eaten by their natural enemies in their native environment. Left without these controls, exotic plant species can run amuck and crowd out the native flora.

"What enemy release doesn't take into account is that while exotic plants may be free from their so-called natural enemies from their home range, they gain novel enemies in their new range," said John Parker, graduate student at Georgia Tech. "Because they've never had to adapt to being eaten by these consumers, they may lack the appropriate defenses to ward them off, essentially going from the frying pan into the fire."

Parker and biology professor Mark Hay tested the enemy release hypothesis with two species of crayfish found in the southeastern United States and one species of grass carp that had previously been introduced from Asia to control aquatic weed growth.

They paired 10 exotic plants with related native plants in the lab to test how the crayfish would respond when given a choice between similar plants. They found the crayfish preferred the exotic plants by a ratio of three to one.

In another part of the study, they took a broader view of fe
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Contact: David Terraso
david.terraso@icpa.gatech.edu
404-385-2966
Georgia Institute of Technology
12-Sep-2005


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