Experimental evidence for indirect facilitation among invasive plants
- Facilitation among species may promote non-native plant invasions through alteration of environmental conditions, enemies or mutualists. However, the role of non-trophic indirect facilitation in invasions has rarely been examined.
- We used a long-term field experiment to test for indirect facilitation by invasions of Microstegium vimineum (stiltgrass) on a secondary invasion of Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) by introducing Alliaria seed into replicated plots previously invaded experimentally by Microstegium.
- Alliaria more readily colonized control plots without Microstegium but produced almost seven times more biomass and nearly four times as many siliques per plant in Microstegium-invaded plots. Improved performance of Alliaria in Microstegium-invaded plots compared to control plots overwhelmed differences in total number of plants such that, on average, invaded plots contained 327% greater total Alliaria biomass and 234% more total siliques compared to control plots.
- The facilitation of Alliaria in Microstegium-invaded plots was associated with an 85% reduction in the biomass of resident species at the peak of the growing season and significantly greater light availability in Microstegium-invaded than control plots early in the growing season.
- Synthesis. Our results demonstrate that an initial plant invasion associated with suppression of resident species and increased resource availability can facilitate a secondary plant invasion. Such positive interactions among species with similar habitat requirements, but offset phenologies, may exacerbate invasions and their impacts on native ecosystems.