The activities are as follows:
- Teacher Guide
- Student Activity, Graph Type A, Level 2
- Student Activity, Graph Type B, Level 2
- Student Activity, Graph Type C, Level 2
- Grading Rubric
- STATISTICS EXTENSION – Data Worksheet – Teacher Guide
- STATISTICS EXTENSION – Data Worksheet – Student Activity
Insects that feed on plants, called herbivores, can have big effects on how plants grow. Herbivory can change the size and shape of plants, the number of flowers and seeds, and even which plant species can survive in a habitat. A plant with leaves eaten by herbivores will likely do worse than a plant that is not eaten.
Native plants are those that naturally occur in an area without human interference. When a plant is moved by humans to a new area and grows outside of its natural range, it is called exotic. Sometimes exotic plants become invasive, meaning they grow large and fast, take over habitats, and push out native species. What determines if an exotic species will become invasive? Scientists are very interested in this question. Understanding what makes a species become invasive could help control invasions already underway, and prevent new ones in the future.
Because herbivory affects how big and fast a plant can grow, herbivores may determine if an exotic plant is successful in its new habitat and becomes invasive. Elizabeth, a plant biologist, is fascinated by invasive species and wanted to know why they are able to grow bigger and faster than native and exotic species. She thought that invasive species might get less damage from herbivores, which would allow them to grow more and could explain how they become invasive.
To test this hypothesis, Elizabeth planted 25 native, 25 exotic, and 11 invasive species into a field in Michigan. This field was full of many plants and had many insect herbivores. The experimental plants grew from 2011-2013. Each year Elizabeth measured herbivory on 10 individuals of each of the 61 species, for a total of 610 plants! To measure herbivory she looked at the leaves on each plant and determined how much of each leaf was eaten by herbivores. She then compared the area that was eaten to the total area of the leaf, and calculated the proportion leaf area eaten by herbivores. Elizabeth predicted that invasive species would have a lower proportion of leaf area eaten, compared to native and non-invasive exotic plants.
Featured scientist: Elizabeth Schultheis from Michigan State University
There is one scientific paper associated with the data in this Data Nugget. The citation and PDF of the paper is below, as well as a link to access the full dataset from the study:
- Schultheis, E.H., A.E. Berardi, and J.A. Lau (2015). No release for the wicked: enemy release is dynamic and not associated with invasiveness. Ecology 96(9) 2446-2457.
- Data available from the Dryad Digital Repository
Aerial view of the experiments discussed in this activity: