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Biological invasion hotspots: a trait‐based perspective reveals new sub‐continental patterns

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Invader traits (including plant growth form) may play an important, and perhaps overlooked, role in determining macroscale patterns of biological invasions and therefore warrant greater consideration in future investigations aimed at understanding these patterns. To assess this need, we used empirical data from a national‐level survey of forest in the contiguous 48 states of the USA to identify geographic hotspots of forest plant invasion for three distinct invasion characteristics: invasive species richness, trait richness (defined as the number of the five following plant growth forms represented by the invasive plants present at a given location: forbs, grasses, shrubs, trees, and vines), and species richness within each growth form. Three key findings emerged. 1) The hotspots identified encompassed from 9 to 23% of the total area of our study region, thereby revealing many forests to be not only invaded, but highly invaded. 2) Substantial spatial disagreement among hotspots of invasive species richness, invasive trait richness, and species richness of invasive plants within each growth form revealed many locations to be hotspots for invader traits, or for particular growth forms of invasive plants, rather than for invasive plants in general. 3) Despite eastern forests exhibiting higher levels of plant invasion than western forests, species richness for invasive forbs and grasses in the west were respectively greater than and equivalent to levels found in the east. Contrasting patterns between eastern and western forests in the number of invasive species detected for each growth form combined with the spatial disagreement found among hotspot types suggests trait‐based variability in invasion drivers. Our findings reveal invader traits to be an important contributor to macroscale invasion patterns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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