Niche models differentiate potential impacts of two aquatic invasive plant species on native macrophytes.
Potamogeton crispus (curlyleaf pondweed) and Myriophyllum spicatum (Eurasian watermilfoil) are widely thought to competitively displace native macrophytes in North America. However, their perceived competitive superiority has not been comprehensively evaluated. Coexistence theory suggests that invader displacement of native species through competitive exclusion is most likely where high niche overlap results in competition for limiting resources. Thus, evaluation of niche similarity can serve as a starting point for predicting the likelihood of invaders having direct competitive impacts on resident species. Across two environmental gradients structuring macrophyte communities-water depth and light availability-both P. crispus and M. spicatum are thought to occupy broad niches. For a third dimension, phenology, the annual growth cycle of M. spicatum is typical of other species, whereas the winter-ephemeral phenology of P. crispus may impart greater niche differentiation and thus lower risk of native species being competitively excluded. Using an unprecedented dataset comprising 3404 plant surveys from Minnesota collected using a common protocol, we modeled niches of 34 species using a probabilistic niche framework. Across each niche dimension, P. crispus had lower overlap with native species than did M. spicatum; this was driven in particular by its distinct phenology. These results suggest that patterns of dominance seen in P. crispus and M. spicatum have likely arisen through different mechanisms, and that direct competition with native species is less likely for P. crispus than M. spicatum. This research highlights the utility of fine-scale, abundance-based niche models for predicting invader impacts.