Plant spatial arrangement affects projected invasion speeds of two invasive thistles


K. M. Marchetto, Dept of Biology and IGDP in Ecology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA 16802, USA. E-mail:


The spatial arrangement of plants in a landscape influences wind flow, but the extent that differences in the density of conspecifics and the height of surrounding vegetation influence population spread rates of wind dispersed plants is unknown. Wind speeds were measured at the capitulum level in conspecific arrays of different sizes and densities in high and low surrounding vegetation to determine how these factors affect wind speeds and therefore population spread rates of two invasive thistle species of economic importance, Carduus acanthoides and C. nutans. Only the largest and highest density array reduced wind speeds at a central focal thistle plant. The heights of capitula and surrounding vegetation also had significant effects on wind speed. When population spread rates were projected using integrodifference equations coupling previously published demography data with WALD wind dispersal models, large differences in spread rates resulted from differences in average horizontal wind speeds at capitulum height caused by conspecific density and surrounding vegetation height. This result highlights the importance of spatial structure for the calculation of accurate spread rates. The management implication is that if a manager has time to remove a limited number of thistle plants, an isolated thistle growing in low surrounding vegetation should be targeted rather than a similar sized thistle in a high density population with high surrounding vegetation, if the objective is to reduce spread rates.