Longevity, growth and community ecology of invasive Poa annua across environmental gradients in the subantarctic.
Poa annua is a cosmopolitan weed in turf grass. It is a widespread non-native species in the subantarctic and also occurs in the Antarctic Peninsula. It has highly variable morphology, longevity and reproductive capacity across both its invaded and native range. Little is known about the ecology of P. annua in the subantarctic, particularly its longevity, morphological variation across small spatial scales and competitive ability. We monitored individual P. annua plants on subantarctic Macquarie Island to assess their longevity; quantified morphology and biomass allocation across environmental gradients; and assessed community diversity indices in areas of varying P. annua density. We show that P. annua plants on Macquarie Island are perennial, and their morphology varies with elevation, animal disturbance and soil properties. At low altitude, coastal sites with high animal disturbance and deep, sandy soils, P. annua plants are larger and native plant diversity is low. Conversely, at high altitude sites P. annua plants are smaller and the diversity of native species is not reduced. This new information informs why P. annua is the most successful plant invader in the subantarctic and quantifies some key characteristics enabling an invasive species to function well beyond its natural range. Community ecology theory can also explain patterns in the ecology of P. annua on Macquarie Island.