Deer feeding selectivity for invasive plants

Kristine M. Averill, David A. Mortensen, Erica A.H. Smithwick, Eric Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Native generalist herbivores might limit plant invasion by consuming invading plants or enhance plant invasion by selectively avoiding them. The role of herbivores in plant invasion has been investigated in relation to plant native/introduced status, however, a knowledge gap exists about whether food selection occurs according to native/introduced status or to species. We tested preference of the native herbivore white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) for widespread and frequently occurring invasive introduced and native plants in the northeastern United States. Multiple-choice deer preference trials were conducted for the species and relative preference was determined using biomass consumption and feeding behavior. While more native than introduced plant biomass was consumed overall, deer food selection varied strongly by plant species. Results show consistent deer avoidance of several invasive introduced plants (Alliaria petiolata, Berberis thunbergii, and Microstegium vimineum) and a native plant (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). Other invasive introduced plants (Celastrus orbiculatus, Ligustrum vulgare, and Lonicera morrowii) and a native plant (Acer rubrum) were highly preferred. These results provide evidence that herbivore impacts on plant invaders depend on plant species palatability. Consequently, herbivore selectivity likely plays an important role in the invasion process. To the extent that herbivory impacts population demographics, these results suggest that native generalist herbivores promote enemy release of some plant invaders by avoiding them and contribute to biotic resistance of others by consuming them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1247-1263
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Deer feeding selectivity for invasive plants'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this