Is invasion success explained by enemy release?

Published online
07 Nov 2020
Content type

Roznik, E.

Publication language
USA & Florida


Identifying the mechanisms underlying biological invasions can inform the management of invasive species. The enemy release hypothesis (ERH) suggests that invasive species have a competitive advantage in their introduced range because they leave behind many of their predators and parasites from their native range, allowing them to shift resources from defences to growth, reproduction and dispersal. Many studies have demonstrated that invasive species have fewer parasites than their native counterparts, but few studies have tested whether the loss of these natural enemies appears to be a primary driver of the invasion process. To test the ERH, a mark-recapture study was conducted in which an anthelmintic drug was used to successfully reduce parasitic worms in invasive Cuban treefrogs Osteopilus septentrionalis and native treefrogs (Hyla spp.) at half of 12 wetlands, marking nearly 4,200 frogs. If the ERH is supported, we would expect that treating for parasitic worms would have a greater benefit to native than invasive hosts. Growth and survival rates of invasive and native treefrogs responded similarly to the anthelmintic treatment, suggesting that the Cuban treefrog's release from parasitic worms does not appear to significantly contribute to its invasiveness in established areas. Instead, it appears that the overall faster rates of growth and maturation, higher survival rates and larger body sizes of Cuban treefrogs that we observed may contribute to their expansion and proliferation. Although Cuban treefrogs have a lower diversity of parasitic worms in their invasive than native range, this does not appear to significantly contribute to their invasion success in areas where they have been established for more than 20 years. This suggests that any manipulation of parasites in invasive or native hosts would not be an effective method of controlling Cuban treefrogs or reducing their impacts. Further research into other hypotheses is needed to explain the Cuban treefrog's success and help guide management actions to reduce their spread and negative impacts. Our study demonstrates that enemy release may not be a primary driver of invasiveness, highlighting the need for more experimental tests of the enemy release hypothesis to examine its generality.

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