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Keywords:

  • acquisitive strategy;
  • biological invasions;
  • central-western Argentina;
  • conservative strategy;
  • exotic species;
  • functional attributes;
  • herbaceous species traits;
  • trait syndromes;
  • woody species traits

Summary

1 Two main views have been put forward to explain whether coexisting alien and resident plant species should show converging or diverging functional attributes. According to the ‘try-harder’ hypothesis, successful aliens should differ from resident species with traits that allow them to deal better with the local conditions than resident species. On the other hand, the ‘join-the-locals’ hypothesis stresses the importance of filtering by environmental factors and predicts strong functional trait similarities between alien and native species, especially among the dominants.

2 On the basis of a functional trait comparison between native and alien species of central-western Argentina across five contrasting ecosystems and four land-use regimes, we tested these hypotheses over a broad range of habitats. We built a data set with common measurement methods and biogeographical factors but strongly varying environmental conditions, ranging from mesic to extremely dry, and from nearly pristine to heavily disturbed.

3 When considering all species together, the main trend of variation in trait syndromes was between acquisitive (tender, large leaves, with high specific area) and conservative (tough, small leaves, with low specific area and low nutrient content). Although both native and alien species appeared to be well spread across the whole range of trait variation, woody alien species showed a significantly more acquisitive set of attributes (higher specific leaf area, larger and thinner leaves, lower wood density) than native species. No significant difference was detected between herbaceous alien and native species. These general trends were maintained under contrasting climatic and land-use conditions.

4Synthesis. The patterns detected for herbaceous species were in line with the ‘join-the-locals’ hypothesis. In contrast, those found for woody species, with woody alien species showing more acquisitive attributes than native species in more resource-rich habitats, provide partial support for the ‘try-harder’ hypothesis. Overall, our findings reinforce the idea that a universal suit of attributes is unlikely to explain alien plant distribution. They also stress the need for caution when mixing major life-forms in comparative plant trait analysis.