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Plant invasions along mountain roads: the altitudinal amplitude of alien Asteraceae forbs in their native and introduced ranges

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Studying plant invasions along environmental gradients is a promising approach to dissect the relative importance of multiple interacting factors that affect the spread of a species in a new range. Along altitudinal gradients, factors such as propagule pressure, climatic conditions and biotic interactions change simultaneously across rather small geographic scales. Here we investigate the distribution of eight Asteraceae forbs along mountain roads in both their native and introduced ranges in the Valais (southern Swiss Alps) and the Wallowa Mountains (northeastern Oregon, USA). We hypothesised that a lack of adaptation and more limiting propagule pressure at higher altitudes in the new range restricts the altitudinal distribution of aliens relative to the native range. However, all but one of the species reached the same or even a higher altitude in the new range. Thus neither the need to adapt to changing climatic conditions nor lower propagule pressure at higher altitudes appears to have prevented the altitudinal spread of introduced populations. We found clear differences between regions in the relative occurrence of alien species in ruderal sites compared to roadsides, and in the degree of invasion away from the roadside, presumably reflecting differences in disturbance patterns between regions. Whilst the upper altitudinal limits of these plant invasions are apparently climatically constrained, factors such as anthropogenic disturbance and competition with native vegetation appear to have greater influence than changing climatic conditions on the distribution of these alien species along altitudinal gradients.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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