Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Neophyte invasions in European grasslands.

Abstract

Questions The human-related spread of alien plants has serious environmental and socioeconomic impacts. Therefore, it is important to know which habitats are most threatened by invasion and why. We studied a wide range of European grasslands to assess: (a) which alien species are the most successful invaders in grasslands; (b) how invasion levels differ across European regions (countries or their parts) and biogeographical regions; and (c) which habitat types are the most invaded. Location Europe. Methods We selected 97,411 grassland vegetation plots from the European Vegetation Archive (EVA) and assigned a native or alien status to each of the 8,212 vascular plant species found in these plots. We considered only neophytes (alien species introduced after 1500 AD), which we further divided according to their origin. We compared the levels of invasion using relative neophyte richness in the species pool, relative neophyte richness and cover per plot, and percentages of invaded plots among regions and habitats. Results Only 536 species, representing 6.5% of all grassland vascular plant species, were classified as neophytes. These were mostly therophytes or hemicryptophytes with low habitat specificity. Most of them were present in very few plots, while only three species were recorded in more than 1% of all plots (Onobrychis viciifolia, Erigeron annuus and Erigeron canadensis). Although invasion levels were generally low, we found more invaded plots in the Boreal and Continental regions. When considering only non-European neophytes, the Pannonian region was the most invaded. Among different grassland habitats, sandy grasslands were most invaded, and alpine and oromediterranean grasslands least invaded. Conclusions In general, natural and semi-natural European grasslands have relatively low levels of neophyte invasions compared with human-made habitats or alluvial forests, as well as with grasslands on other continents. The most typical neophytes invading European grasslands are species with broad ecological niches.