Invasive Phragmites australis management outcomes and native plant recovery are context dependent.
The outcomes of invasive plant removal efforts are influenced by management decisions, but are also contingent on the uncontrolled spatial and temporal context of management areas. Phragmites australis is an aggressive invader that is intensively managed in wetlands across North America. Treatment options have been understudied, and the ecological contingencies of management outcomes are poorly understood. We implemented a 5-year, multi-site experiment to evaluate six Phragmites management treatments that varied timing (summer or fall) and types of herbicide (glyphosate or imazapyr) along with mowing, plus a nonherbicide solarization treatment. We evaluated treatments for their influence on Phragmites and native plant cover and Phragmites inflorescence production. We assessed plant community trajectories and outcomes in the context of environmental factors. The summer mow, fall glyphosate spray treatment resulted in low Phragmites cover, high inflorescence reduction, and provided the best conditions for native plant recruitment. However, returning plant communities did not resemble reference sites, which were dominated by ecologically important perennial graminoids. Native plant recovery following initial Phragmites treatments was likely limited by the dense litter that resulted from mowing. After 5 years, Phragmites mortality and native plant recovery were highly variable across sites as driven by hydrology. Plots with higher soil moisture had greater reduction in Phragmites cover and more robust recruitment of natives compared with low moisture plots. This moisture effect may limit management options in semiarid regions vulnerable to water scarcity. We demonstrate the importance of replicating invasive species management experiments across sites so the contingencies of successes and failures can be better understood.