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Environmental gradients influence differences in leaf functional traits between native and non-native plants

September 7, 2019

Determining the characteristics of non-native plants that can successfully establish and spread is central to pressing questions in invasion ecology. Evidence suggests that some non-native species establish and spread in new environments because they possess characteristics (functional traits) that allow them to either successfully compete with native residents or fill previously unfilled niches. However, the relative importance of out-competing native species vs. filling empty niche space as potential mechanisms of invasion may depend on environmental characteristics. Here, we measured plant functional traits, proxies indicative of competitive and establishment strategies, to determine if these traits vary among native and invasive species and if their prevalence is dependent on environmental conditions. Using a natural environmental gradient in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, we evaluated how functional traits differ between native and non-native plant communities and if these differences change along an environmental gradient from hot, dry to cool, wet conditions. Functional trait differences suggested that both competition and open niche space may be important for invasion. Non-native communities tended to have traits associated with faster growth strategies such as higher specific leaf area and lower leaf thickness. However, native and non-native community traits became more dissimilar along the gradient, suggesting that non-native species may be occupying previously unfilled niche space at the hot, dry end of the gradient. We also found that most of the variation in functional trait values amongst plots was due to species turnover rather than intraspecific variation. These results highlight the role of environmental context when considering invasion mechanisms.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Environmental gradients influence differences in leaf functional traits between native and non-native plants
DOI 10.1007/s00442-019-04498-7
Authors Jonathan J Henn, Stephanie G. Yelenik, Ellen Ingman Damschen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Oecologia
Index ID 70207578
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center

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