An invasive legume increases perennial grass biomass: an indirect pathway for plant community change.
The presence of native grasses in communities can suppress native forbs through competition and indirectly benefit these forbs by suppressing the invasion of highly competitive exotic species. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to examine the potential of direct and indirect interactions to influence the aboveground biomass of four native forb species in the presence of the native perennial grass Schizachyrium scoparium and exotic invasive Lespedeza cuneata. We examined patterns of growth for the invasive legume, the perennial grass, and four native species in four scenarios: (1) native species grown with the grass, (2) native species grown with the legume, (3) native species grown with both the grass and legume together, and (4) native species grown alone. Schizachyrium scoparium significantly decreased biomass of all forb species (p<0.05). In contrast, L. cuneata alone only significantly affected biomass of Asclepias tuberosa; L. cuneata increased the biomass of A. tuberosa only when the grass was present. When S. scoparium and L. cuneata were grown together, L. cuneata had significantly lower biomass (p=0.007) and S. scoparium had significantly greater biomass (p=0.002) than when each grew alone. These reciprocal effects suggest a potential pathway by which L. cuneata could alter forb diversity in grassland communities In this scenario, L. cuneata facilitates grass growth and competition with other natives. Our results emphasize the importance of monitoring interactions between exotic invasive plant species and dominant native species in grassland communities to understand pathways of plant community change.