The role of plant-mycorrhizal mutualisms in deterring plant invasions: insights from an individual-based model.
Understanding the factors that determine invasion success for non-native plants is crucial for maintaining global biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. One hypothesized mechanism by which many exotic plants can become invasive is through the disruption of key plant-mycorrhizal mutualisms, yet few studies have investigated how these disruptions can lead to invader success. We present an individual-based model to examine how mutualism strengths between a native plant (Impatiens capensis) and mycorrhizal fungus can influence invasion success for a widespread plant invader, Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard). Two questions were investigated as follows: (a) How does the strength of the mutualism between the native I. capensis and a mycorrhizal fungus affect resistance (i.e., native plant maintaining >60% of final equilibrium plant density) to garlic mustard invasion? (b) Is there a non-linear relationship between initial garlic mustard density and invasiveness (i.e., garlic mustard representing >60% of final equilibrium plant density)? Our findings indicate that either low (i.e., facultative) or high (i.e., obligate) mutualism strengths between the native plant and mycorrhizal fungus were more likely to lead to garlic mustard invasiveness than intermediate levels, which resulted in higher resistance to garlic mustard invasion. Intermediate mutualism strengths allowed I. capensis to take advantage of increased fitness when the fungus was present but remained competitive enough to sustain high numbers without the fungus. Though strong mutualisms had the highest fitness without the invader, they proved most susceptible to invasion because the loss of the mycorrhizal fungus resulted in a reproductive output too low to compete with garlic mustard. Weak mutualisms were more competitive than strong mutualisms but still led to garlic mustard invasion. Furthermore, we found that under intermediate mutualism strengths, the initial density of garlic mustard (as a proxy for different levels of plant invasion) did not influence its invasion success, as high initial densities of garlic mustard did not lead to it becoming dominant. Our results indicate that plants that form weak or strong mutualisms with mycorrhizal fungi are most vulnerable to invasion, whereas intermediate mutualisms provide the highest resistance to an allelopathic invader.