A Cross-continental Test of the Enemy Release Hypothesis: Leaf Herbivory on Acer platanoides (L.) is Three Times Lower in North America than in its Native Europe

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Acer platanoides (Norway maple) is a widespread native tree species in Europe. It has been introduced to North America where it has often established dense stands in both secondary woodlands and relatively undisturbed mature woodlands. In Europe A. platanoides is also extending its original range, but generally seems to exist at much lower densities. One explanation for the ‘aggressiveness’ of invasive plants such as A. platanoides is that they have left behind pests and diseases which limit their population densities in their native lands (the enemy release hypothesis or ERH). To assess the ERH for Norway maple, a large network of collaborators assessed leaf herbivory rates in populations throughout Europe and North America. We found significantly lower total leaf herbivory (1.6% ± 0.19, n = 21 vs. 7.4% ± 1.94, n = 34) and lower fungal damage (1.0% ± 0.35, n = 13 vs. 3.7% ± 0.85, n = 34) in North America than in Europe over a 2 year period, which is consistent with the predictions of the Enemy Release Hypothesis. Across years, the average total leaf herbivory was significantly correlated with average annual temperature of the site (P < 0.05), although this was mostly due to sites in Europe (P < 0.001), and not sites in North America (P > 0.05). Furthermore, only populations in Europe showed very high levels of herbivory (e.g., nine sites had total leaf herbivory ranging from 10.0 to 51.2% in at least 1 year) or leaf fungal damage (only one site in North America showed high levels of fungal damage in 1 year), suggesting the possibility of more frequent episodic outbreaks in the native range. Leaf herbivory and fungal damage are only two aspects of consumer pressure and we do not know whether the differences reported here are enough to actually elicit release from top-down population control, but such large scale biogeographic differences in herbivory contribute towards understanding exotic invasions.