In a long-term experimental demography study, excluding ungulates reversed invader's explosive population growth rate and restored natives

Susan Kalisz, Rachel B. Spigler, Carol C. Horvitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


A major goal in ecology is to understand mechanisms that increase invasion success of exotic species. A recent hypothesis implicates altered species interactions resulting from ungulate herbivore overabundance as a key cause of exotic plant domination. To test this hypothesis, we maintained an experimental demography deer exclusion study for 6 y in a forest where the native ungulate Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer) is overabundant and Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) is aggressively invading. Because population growth is multiplicative across time, we introduce metrics that correctly integrate experimental effects across treatment years, the cumulative population growth rate, λc, and its geometric mean, λper-year, the time-averaged annual population growth rate. We determined λc and λper-year of the invader and of a common native, Trillium erectum. Our results conclusively demonstrate that deer are required for the success of Alliaria; its projected population trajectory shifted from explosive growth in the presence of deer (λ per-year = 1.33) to decline toward extinction where deer are excluded (λper-year = 0.88). In contrast, Trillium's λper-year was suppressed in the presence of deer relative to deer exclusion (λper-year = 1.04 vs. 1.20, respectively). Retrospective sensitivity analyses revealed that the largest negative effect of deer exclusion on Alliaria came from rosette transitions, whereas the largest positive effect on Trillium came from reproductive transitions. Deer exclusion lowered Alliaria density while increasing Trillium density. Our results provide definitive experimental support that interactions with overabundant ungulates enhance demographic success of invaders and depress natives ' success, with broad implications for biodiversity and ecosystem function worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4501-4506
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 25 2014


  • Biotic resistance
  • Forest understory herbs
  • Herbivory
  • Life table response experiment
  • Temperate deciduous forest conservation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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