It is an open question whether the invading tree species Acer platanoides is invading and displacing native trees within pre-existing forest stands, or merely preferentially occupying new stands of secondary forest growth at the edges of existing forests. Several threads of spatial pattern analyses were used to assess the invasibility of A. platanoides, and to link the invasion to the structure of a plant community in the deciduous forest of the northeastern United States. The analyses were based on maps of a contiguous 100×50 m area along an A. platanoides infestation gradient.
The distribution of A. platanoides was highly aggregated and the population importance value increased from 28.1 to 38.5% according to mortality estimated from standing dead trees, while the distribution of native tree species was close to random and importance value of Quercus spp. decreased from 33.4 to 26.9% over time. The size distributions of each tree species across distance indicated that A. platanoides was progressively invading the interior of the forest while the native species (including A. rubrum) were not spreading back towards the A. platanoides monospecific patch. The null hypothesis of no invasibility was rejected based on quantile regressions.
There were negative correlations between A. platanoides density and the densities of native species in different functional groups, and negative correlation of A. platanoides density and the species diversity in forest understory. The null hypothesis that A. platanoides invasion did not suppress native trees or understory was rejected based on Dutilleul's modified t-test for correlation, consistent with experimental results in the same study site.
The combination of multiple spatial analyses of static data can be used to infer historical dynamical processes that shape a plant community structure. The concept of “envelop effects” was discussed and further developed.