Experimental drought indirectly enhances the individual performance and the abundance of an invasive annual weed.
During environmental change, invasive species may be favored by increased resource input or reduced resource use of the resident community. Plasticity in certain plant traits of invasive species may be one possible mechanism behind their ability to quickly exploit unused resources. We tested whether rainfall manipulations (severe drought, moderate drought, watering) alter the growth and reproductive success of the invasive annual Conyza canadensis, and if it translates into a change in the abundance of the species in a semiarid perennial grassland in Central Hungary. Overall, C. canadensis exhibited greater individual performance and higher abundance in drought plots than in control and watered plots. At individual level, plants showed the strongest response to moderate drought: they grew 2.5-times taller than in control and watered plots, and produced twice and 2.5-times more seeds than in watered and control plots, respectively. Reproductive phenology was advanced in response to rain exclusions. Although severe drought caused 40% mortality, the cumulative performance of C. canadensis, expressed as plot-level aboveground biomass, was consistently greater in severe drought plots than in control and watered plots throughout the 3 years of the study. The higher performance of C. canadensis in drought plots is most likely due to the decreased abundance and, thus, decreased competitive effect of previously dominant perennial grasses caused by the rain exclusions. We conclude that drier summers that suppress perennial grasses will favor this alien annual forb, and phenotypic plasticity in growth and reproduction may contribute to its invasion success.