Alien plant species invade by occupying similar functional spaces to native species.
Invasive alien species (IAS) are the subset of naturalized species that cause greater impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services. However, despite management actions and eradication plans, their expansion worldwide is seemingly unstoppable. In this paper, based on a large dataset of 1039 records of IAS and native plant species representative of the extensive biogeographic diversity in Southern Europe, we tested the consistency of Grime' concept of CSR universal adaptive strategies (competitors, stress-tolerators and ruderals) to explain plant invasion across a broad elevation gradient. Accounting for phylogenetic relatedness, we tested two hypotheses. First, whether IAS occupy a different CSR space compared to native species. Second, whether the success of IAS at the regional scale is linked to higher degree of C- and/or R-selection, according to recent worldwide observations on naturalization success of alien species. We tested such hypotheses on different growth forms (trees, shrubs, long-lived herbs, short-lived herbs, hydrophytes) that are related to plant functional traits. Except for trees, IAS and native plant species essentially occupied the same CSR space, indicating that IAS can occupy the same niches of native species. However, IAS exhibited mainly higher C-scores compared to natives, suggesting that IAS are more competitive and are associated with relatively productive habitats, involving that these sites are highly prone to invasion (and that native species in resource-poor habitats are less likely to experience pressure from IAS). Our findings confirm the utility of CSR classification to broadly represent, and explain, the invasion success of alien plant species at the regional scale. This approach emerges as a viable tool in assessment of IAS characteristics and for development of strategies and plans for their containment.