1 In this study the potential role of competition in influencing the distribution of three displaced native perennial grasses across complex gradients of plant productivity and species composition was investigated in Michigan old-fields. To do this plant removal and propagule addition experiments were conducted at nine old-field sites to examine the effects of living plant neighbours and litter on seedling establishment and growth of target species in relation to community biomass.
2 For two target species, Andropogon gerardi and Schizachyrium scoparium, living plant neighbours suppressed establishment from seed at most sites, and suppressed the growth of transplants at all sites.
3 Plant litter strongly inhibited the seedling establishment of both Andropogon and Schizachyrium at sites of high community biomass and litter accumulation, but had little impact on the growth rate of transplants at any of the sites.
4 The total suppressive effect of the plant community on seedling establishment and transplant growth of both Andropogon and Schizachyrium increased in magnitude in a non-linear fashion with community biomass. These effects increased in magnitude more rapidly across sites of low to medium biomass than sites of medium to high biomass.
5 The results suggest that these native grasses may be restricted to low productivity habitats within this landscape because of strong competitive interference with establishment by the existing vegetation in the most productive sites.