A mechanistic framework of enemy release

Joshua I. Brian*, Jane A. Catford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The enemy release hypothesis (ERH) is the best-known hypothesis explaining high performance (e.g. rapid population growth) of exotic species. However, the current framing of the ERH does not explicitly link evidence of enemy release with exotic performance. This leads to uncertainty regarding the role of enemy release in biological invasions. Here, we demonstrate that the effect of enemy release on exotic performance is the product of three factors: enemy impact, enemy diversity, and host adaptation. These factors are modulated by seven contexts: time since introduction, resource availability, phylogenetic relatedness of exotic and native species, host–enemy asynchronicity, number of introduction events, type of enemy, and strength of growth–defence trade-offs. ERH-focused studies frequently test different factors under different contexts. This can lead to inconsistent findings, which typifies current evidence for the ERH. For example, over 80% of meta-analyses fail to consider ecological contexts which can alter study findings; we demonstrate this by re-analysing a recent ERH synthesis. Structuring the ERH around factors and contexts promotes generalisable predictions about when and where exotic species may benefit from enemy release, empowering effective management. Our mechanistic factor–context framework clearly lays out the evidence required to support the ERH, unifies many enemy-related invasion hypotheses, and enhances predictive capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2147-2166
Number of pages20
Issue number12
Early online date3 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • biological invasion
  • context dependence
  • defence
  • enemy release hypothesis
  • evolution
  • exotic plant species
  • herbivore
  • meta-analysis
  • pathogen
  • time since introduction


Dive into the research topics of 'A mechanistic framework of enemy release'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this