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The impact of an invading alien grass (Agropyron cristatum) on species turnover in native prairie

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* Corresponding author: E-mail: scott.wilson@uregina.ca

Abstract

Abstract. Alien invasions typically reduce species richness of habitats, but few studies have examined their effects on species turnover, the difference in species composition between localities. Agropyron cristatum (L.) Gaertn. (crested wheat grass) has been planted on 6–10 million ha of North American prairie, and is invading native prairie. We studied the invasion of A. cristatum into native prairie by measuring species composition along a gradient from maximum to minimum A. cristatum abundance. As A. cristatum increased, the abundance of most common native species decreased, but one appeared to be unaffected (Bouteloua gracilis (H.B.K.) Lag.), and another (Poa sandbergii Vasey) increased. The effect of A. cristatum on species turnover was investigated by examining species–area curves for areas from 0.5 m2 to 8.0 m2. Species diversity was reduced by 35% at high A. cristatum abundances at all areas. A. cristatum reduced the intercept of the species–area curve, but not the slope, suggesting that A. cristatum affected species turnover proportionally in all areas and habitats. This unusual result may indicate a homogeneous environment where species are distributed randomly. A. cristatum produced almost twice as many seeds as all native grasses combined. The number of seeds collected of native grasses and A. cristatum was highly correlated with the number of seed heads immediately nearby, but not with transect position. This suggests most seeds were dispersed over distances less than 5 m. In sum, the invasion of native prairie by A. cristatum might be related to high rates of seed production, and has the effect of decreasing species turnover by reducing the intercept of the species–area curve.

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