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Keywords:

  • carbon addition;
  • community assembly;
  • functional traits;
  • limiting similarity;
  • nitrogen;
  • phenology

Preventing invasion by exotic species is one of the key goals of restoration, and community assembly theory provides testable predictions about native community attributes that will best resist invasion. For instance, resource availability and biotic interactions may represent “filters” that limit the success of potential invaders. Communities are predicted to resist invasion when they contain native species that are functionally similar to potential invaders; where phenology may be a key functional trait. Nutrient reduction is another common strategy for reducing invasion following native species restoration, because soil nitrogen (N) enrichment often facilitates invasion. Here, we focus on restoring the herbaceous community associated with coastal sage scrub vegetation in Southern California; these communities are often highly invaded, especially by exotic annual grasses that are notoriously challenging for restoration. We created experimental plant communities composed of the same 20 native species, but manipulated functional group abundance (according to growth form, phenology, and N-fixation capacity) and soil N availability. We fertilized to increase N, and added carbon to reduce N via microbial N immobilization. We found that N reduction decreased exotic cover, and the most successful seed mix for reducing exotic abundance varied depending on the invader functional type. For instance, exotic annual grasses were least abundant when the native community was dominated by early active forbs, which matched the phenology of the exotic annual grasses. Our findings show that nutrient availability and the timing of biotic interactions are key filters that can be manipulated in restoration to prevent invasion and maximize native species recovery.