Niche opportunities and invasion dynamics in a desert annual community


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Although many factors influence the ability of exotics to invade successfully, most studies focus on only a few variables to explain invasion; attempts at theoretical synthesis are largely untested. The niche opportunities framework proposes that the demographic success of an invader is largely affected by the availability of resources and the abundance of its enemies. Here, we use a 31-year study from a desert ecosystem to examine the niche opportunities framework via the invasion of the annual plant Erodium cicutarium. While the invader remained rare for two decades, a decline in granivory combined with an ideal climate window created an opportunity for E. cicutarium to escape control and become the dominant annual plant in the community. We show that fluctuations in consumption and resources can create niche opportunities for invaders and highlight the need for additional long-term studies to track the influence of changing climate and community dynamics on invasions.