Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Impacts of invasive annual grasses and their litter vary by native functional strategy.

Abstract

Invasive species may act as a functional filter on native communities by differentially affecting species with different trait values. Across environments, invasive plants typically display traits associated with high resource acquisition and fast growth. Conversely, native plants, especially those in water-limited environments, tend to adopt one of two functional strategies: fast growth during high resource availability to avoid stress (resource-acquisitive), or slow growth during resource-poor conditions to tolerate stress (resource-conservative). While invasive competition can be a strong filter on these groups, many invaders also alter the structure of native communities through their accumulation of litter. How fast-growing invaders with litter shift native functional communities remains unknown. To elucidate these functional shifts, I manipulated invasive annual grasses and their litter in an annual grassland and followed the demographic rates of six native annual forb species that varied in their functional strategy. Live grass competition alone decreased per capita growth rates of resource-acquisitive natives and had no effect on resource-conservative natives. The presence of litter, however, decreased growth rates in both functional types of natives, with stronger declines in resource-acquisitive species through differential effects on seed set and germination. Invaders in this system thus create an unfavorable environment for natives through litter, limiting the capacity of both resource-acquisitive and resource-conservative native forbs to maintain high population growth. These findings suggest that grass invasions have the potential to dramatically shift the functional composition of native communities through the time-lagged effects of their litter.