Size of the local species pool determines invasibility of a C4-dominated grassland

TitleSize of the local species pool determines invasibility of a C4-dominated grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsSmith, MD, Knapp, AK
Pagination55 -61
Accession NumberKNZ00789

The size of the local species pool (i.e., species surrounding a community capable of dispersal into that community) and other dispersal limitations strongly influence native plant community composition. However, the role that the local species pool plays in determining the invasibility of communities by exotic plants remains to be evaluated. We hypothesized that the richness and abundance of exotic species would be greater in C4-dominated grassland communities if the local species pool included a larger proportion of exotic species. We also predicted that an increase in the exotic species pool would increase the invasibility of sites thought to be resistant to invasion (annually burned grassland). To test these hypotheses, study plots were established within two long-term (>20 yr) fire experiments at a tallgrass prairie preserve in NE Kansas (USA). Study plots were surrounded by either a small pool of exotic species (small species pool (SSP) plots; six species) or a larger exotic species pool (large species pool (LSP) plots; 18 species). We found that richness and absolute cover of exotic species was significantly (P<0.001) lower (∼70 and 90%, respectively) in annually burned compared to unburned plots, regardless of the size of the exotic species pool. As predicted, exotic species richness was higher (P<0.001) for LSP plots (3.9 per 250 m2) than for SSP plots (0.7 per 250 m2); however, absolute cover was unaffected by the size of the exotic species pool. In the absence of fire, plots with a LSP had four times as many exotic species than SSP plots. An increase in the local exotic species pool also increased the invasibility of annually burned grassland. Indeed, richness of exotic plant species in annually burned LSP plots did not differ from unburned plots with a SSP, indicating that a larger pool of exotic species countered the negative effects of fire. These findings have important implications for predicting how the invasion of plant communities may respond to human-induced global changes, such as habitat fragmentation. Community characteristics or factors such as frequent fires in grasslands may impart resistance to invasions by exotic species in large, intact ecosystems. However, when a large pool of exotic species is present, frequent fire may not be sufficient to limit the invasions of exotic plants in fragmented landscapes.