Propagule pressure and native species richness effects drive invasibility in tropical dry forest seedling layers.
Understanding the factors that encourage or inhibit plant invasions is vital to focusing limited invasive control efforts within areas where they are most practical and cost-effective. To extend the range of contexts in which invasibility is studied and aid the development of practical strategies to limit damaging plant invasions, we set out to test the relative importance of native species richness, native seedling density, and invasive propagule pressure, on the invasibility of artificial assemblages of naturally occurring tropical woody seedling communities. Our greenhouse mesocosms included a species pool of twelve trees and woody shrubs native to South Florida's tropical hardwood hammocks, and an increasingly prevalent noxious woody invader of this system, Ardisia elliptica. We found that invader propagule pressure was the single most important factor determining community invasibility. We also revealed a positive relationship between invasibility and native species richness in our polyculture mesocosms. Because A. elliptica biomass production significantly differed among different native monocultures and was not related to overyielding in native polycultures, we suggest that the effect of species richness on invasibility in this experiment was the result of sampling effects rather than a true effect of diversity. Three broad findings hold potential for application in preventing and controlling plant invasions, especially in the seedling layers of tropical dry forests: (1) effective invasive control efforts will likely benefit from measures to minimize propagule pressure; (2) managers might do well to prioritize invasive monitoring and removal efforts on the most diverse habitats within a management region; and (3) while more data are necessary to further understand our finding of a lack of association between productivity and invasibility, management regimes aimed at maximizing primary productivity might not increase invasibility, and in fact, strategies for controlling invasive plants via the management of ecosystem productivity may be ineffective.