Competitive effects and responses of the invasive grass Eragrostis plana in Río de la Plata grasslands.
The ability of an invasive species to establish is mostly determined by its biotic interactions with native species from the recipient community. Here, we evaluate the competitive effects and responses of the invasive Eragrostis plana when interacting with native species, in order to identify possible mechanisms driving invasion in Río de la Plata grasslands. A pairwise competition experiment was performed consisting of treatments that varied in the identity of neighbour plant species: (i) control (no interaction); (ii) intraspecific interaction; (iii) interspecific interaction between native and invasive species; and (iv) interspecific interaction between two co-occurring native species. Data analysis was separated into the effect of E. plana on the performance of three native perennial grasses (target species: Aristida laevis, Eragrostis neesii and Paspalum notatum) and the response of E. plana to natives (target species: E. plana). Separately for each target species, components of plant performance were compared between neighbouring species treatments. We found that the strength of competitive interactions depended on both target and neighbour species identity. Regarding natives, interspecific competition was stronger than intraspecific. Native species showed distinctive responses to whether the neighbour was the invasive or a co-occurring native (Eragrostis lugens). Competition between E. plana and native species was stronger than between co-occurring natives. We demonstrated E. plana had a greater negative effect on native's species performance than the native congener E. lugens. Regarding E. plana, intraspecific competition was stronger than interspecific, and its response was positive or neutral when interacting with natives, suggesting its high tolerance to grow in competition with neighbours. We conclude E. plana's negative effects on native species performance, and its positive or neutral responses to neighbouring native plants demonstrate its strong competitive ability in the recipient community. This may explain its invasion success in southern Brazil and in the encompassing Río de la Plata grasslands.