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How strongly do interactions with closely-related native species influence plant invasions? Darwin's naturalization hypothesis assessed on Mediterranean islands

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Abstract Aim 

Recent works have found the presence of native congeners to have a small effect on the naturalization rates of introduced plants, some suggesting a negative interaction (as proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species), and others a positive association. We assessed this question for a new biogeographic region, and discuss some of the problems associated with data base analyses of this type. Location 

Islands of the Mediterranean basin. Methods 

Presence or absence of congeners was assessed for all naturalized alien plants species at regional, local and habitat scales. Using general linear models, we attempted to explain the abundance of the species (as measured by the number of islands where recorded) from their congeneric status, and assessed whether the patterns could be alternatively accounted for by a range of biological, geographical and anthropogenic factors. A simulation model was also used to investigate the impact of a simple bias on a comparable but hypothetical data set. Results 

Data base analyses addressing Darwin's hypothesis are prone to bias from a number of sources. Interaction between invaders and congenerics may be overestimated, as they often do not co-occur in the same habitats. Furthermore, intercorrelations between naturalization success and associated factors such as introduction frequency, which are also not independent from relatedness with the native flora, may generate an apparent influence of congenerics without implying a biological interaction. We detected no true influence from related natives on the successful establishment of alien species of the Mediterranean. Rarely-introduced species tended to fare better in the presence of congeners, but it appears that this effect was generated because species introduced accidentally into highly invasible agricultural and ruderal habitats have many relatives in the region, due to common evolutionary origins. Main conclusions 

Relatedness to the native flora has no more than a marginal influence on the invasion success of alien plants in the Mediterranean, although apparent trends can easily be generated through artefacts of the data base.
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