Forbidden fruit: nutritional and morphological traits of invasive and exotic fleshy-fruits in South Africa
While fleshy-fruited invasive alien plants are recognized as some of the worst invaders on a global scale, until recently, little consideration has been given to the frugivores that feed on these fruits and, more specifically, the fruit traits, which may influence this. We investigated a series of morphological and nutritive fruit traits for ca 30 species of fleshy-fruited invasive alien and exotic species in South Africa. Invasive alien fruit traits were compared with comparable traits of a similar sample size of indigenous fleshy fruits, which occur in the same area. Finally, the similarity of traits for the same invasive alien species was compared with those fruits in Australia. Invasive alien fleshy fruits were similar in morphology, but greater in some nutritive aspects when compared with indigenous fruits. Furthermore, they were very similar in all aspects to their counterparts in Australia. Most seeds of invasive fleshy fruits were small and light, which may explain some of their invasive success, as benefits associated with small seededness may promote invasive potential. Nutritionally, most invasive alien fleshy-fruits were hexose-dominant, containing low lipid and nitrogen content. While frugivore preference trends remain to be formally investigated, this study provides insights into fruit traits, which may tentatively outline why invasive fruits are universally fed on and thus successfully spread.