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Limiting similarity between invaders and dominant species in herbaceous plant communities?

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Limiting similarity theory predicts that successful invaders should differ functionally from species already present in the community. This theory has been tested by manipulating the functional richness of communities, but not other aspects of functional diversity such as the identity of dominant species. Because dominant species are known to have strong effects on ecosystem functioning, I hypothesized that successful invaders should be functionally dissimilar from community dominants.

To test this hypothesis, I added seeds of 17 different species to two different experiments: one in a natural oldfield community that had patches dominated by different plant species, and one in grassland mesocosms that varied in the identity of the dominant species but not in species richness or evenness. I used indicator species analyses to test whether invaders had higher establishment success in plots with functionally different dominant species.

A large percentage of invader species (47–71%) in both experiments showed no difference in affinity across the different dominant treatments, although one-third of species did show some evidence for limiting similarity. Exotic invaders had much higher invasion success than native invaders, and seemed to be inhibited by dominant species that were functionally similar. However, even these invasion patterns were not consistent across the two experiments.

The results from this study show that there is some evidence that dominant species suppress invasion by functionally similar species, beyond the effect of simple presence or absence of species in communities, although it is not the sole factor affecting invasion success. Patterns of invasion success were inconsistent across species and experiments, indicating that other studies using only a single species of invader to make conclusions about community invasibility should be interpreted with caution.

Journal of Ecology (2007) 95, 1027–1035

doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01274.x
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Keywords: Centaurea maculosa; community assembly; diversity; dominance; evenness; grassland; niche complementarity; seed addition

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 2007

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