Friends of mine: an invasive freshwater mussel facilitates growth of invasive macrophytes and mediates their competitive interactions.
Increasing rates of invasions in ecosystems worldwide necessitate experiments to determine the role of biotic interactions in the success and impact of multiple alien species. Here, we examined competitive and facilitative interactions among various combinations of three widespread and often co-occurring invaders: the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha, and the macrophytes Elodea canadensis and Elodea nuttallii. Using a mesocosm-based, factorial experimental design, we assessed the effect of interspecific competition on macrophyte growth rates in the absence and presence at varying biomass of D. polymorpha. Growth rates (wet g/day) of E. canadensis and E. nuttallii were similar when grown in isolation. When grown together, in the absence of D. polymorpha, E. canadensis growth was not significantly reduced in the presence of E. nuttallii and vice versa. In the presence of D. polymorpha (26.0 ± 1 mm), monocultural growth of E. canadensis was largely unaffected, while E. nuttallii growth was strongly enhanced. Low (2.64 g) and medium (3.96 g) mussel biomass led to negative interspecific effects between E. canadensis and E. nuttallii; at high (5.28 g) mussel biomass, the effect of interspecific competition was negated. Overall, D. polymorpha alleviated competitive interactions between the two invasive macrophytes when all three species co-occurred, and substantially enhanced growth of E. nuttallii with increasing mussel biomass, thereby suggesting a possible influence on the relative dominance of these macrophytes in the field. Our study demonstrates how facilitations can cause shifts in dominance among closely related invaders. The consequences of such facilitations for the structure and function of communities remain to be explored generally.