J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (6): 941-948.doi: 10.1093/jpe/rtz031

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Prickly pairs: the proportion of spinescent species does not differ between islands and mainlands

Floret L. Meredith1,*, Marianne L. Tindall1, Frank A. Hemmings2 and Angela T. Moles1   

  1. 1Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
    2John T. Waterhouse Herbarium, School of Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
    *Correspondence address. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Tel: +61 2 9385 8302; Fax: +61 2 9385 3327; E-mail: a.moles@unsw.edu.au
  • Received:2019-01-11 Revised:2019-05-02 Accepted:2019-05-26 Online:2019-10-30 Published:2019-12-01



Organisms on islands are thought to escape biotic pressure and lose defensive capabilities. However, broadscale, evidence-based tests of this idea are rare. In this study, we asked: (i) whether the proportion of spinescent plant species differed between islands and mainlands and (ii) whether the proportion of spinescent species increased with increasing island area and with decreasing island distance to mainland.


We compiled species lists for 18 island–mainland pairs around Australia. We classified 1129 plant species as spinescent or non-spinescent using published species descriptions.

Important Findings

There was no significant difference between the proportion of spinescent species found on islands and on mainlands. Proportions of spinescent species were not significantly related to island area or distance to mainland. Our results suggest that spinescence is just as important to island plants as it is to mainland plants, even for plants inhabiting small or distal islands. This is unexpected, given prevailing thought and previous work on island–mainland comparisons. Our study demonstrates the importance of testing well-accepted yet untested ideas.

Key words: herbivory, island biogeography theory, physical defence, plant community, plant defence, prickles, thorns

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