Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences

Document Type



Exotic pest plants often grow to greater stature, become more abundant, and display increased shade tolerance in their introduced ranges than in their native ranges. These differences have been hypothesized to result from genetic shifts in biomass allocation, growth, or photosynthesis between genotypes in native and introduced ranges or from plastic, phenotypic responses to different environmental conditions, such as lower herbivore or fungal pest loads in areas of introduction. I used the tropical shrub Clidemia hirta (Melastomataceae) as a model exotic pest plant to test these two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses of invasion. Clidemia hirta invades forest understory and is more abundant in much of its introduced range in parts of Oceania, Asia, and Africa than in its native range in Central and South America, where it does not occur in forest understory. Contrary to predictions, I found less genetic variation, as detected with allozymes, within and among native, Costa Rican populations than introduced, Hawaiian populations of C. hirta. Hawaiian and Costa Rican populations also were markedly dissimilar genetically (Nei's I = 0.64), but there were few ecologically important differences in biomass allocation, growth, or photosynthetic parameters between Costa Rican and Hawaiian genotypes grown under high or low light in a common garden experiment. The absence of C. hirta from forest understory in its native range likely results, at least in part, from the strong pressures of insect herbivores and pathogens (natural enemies). A natural enemy exclusion study conducted in the field showed that insect herbivore and fungal pathogen damage was substantially greater on Costa Rican than Hawaiian plants and that these natural enemies caused substantial mortality of C. hirta planted into forest understory in Costa Rica but not Hawaii. These results coupled with demographic data collected over three years in two Hawaiian populations suggest that biological control could cause a decline in C. hirta population growth rates in Hawaiian forests. For now the expanded habitat distribution and vigor of C. hirta in its introduced range seems to result from an ecological response to enemy release rather than a genetic shift in resource acquisition, allocation, or growth.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Julie S. Denslow