Riverbanks as battlegrounds: why does the abundance of native and invasive plants vary?
The abundance of invasive alien plants (IAPs) can vary dramatically over small spatial scales for reasons that are often unclear. Understanding these could offer key insights for containing invasions, accepting that eradication is often no longer feasible. This study investigated determinants of IAP cover on riverbanks, a well-known hotspot of invasion, using Impatiens glandulifera, a prolific invader across the Northern Hemisphere, as a model species. Within this framework, we included the potential for dominant native vegetation cover, mediated by favourable environmental conditions, to resist invasion by I. glandulifera through negative association. Our analyses, using structural equation modelling, showed that I. glandulifera is more sensitive to environmental conditions than dominant native vegetation. High soil moisture was a key determinant of I. glandulifera cover, having negative effects across the riparian zone. Spatially, I. glandulifera and dominant native vegetation responded differently to environmental conditions. Sites with steeper banks had less dominant native vegetation at the water's edge, potentially favouring I. glandulifera cover through reduced competition. In general, greater abundance of dominant native vegetation presented a more invasion-resistant community. Maintaining dominant native vegetation at high abundance is thus key to preventing large monospecific I. glandulifera stands from forming. Our findings highlight the opportunities to indirectly limit plant invasions in general via targeted environmental management and restoration, as well as understanding future risks from long-term environmental change.