Subtle differences in two non-native congeneric beach grasses significantly affect their colonization, spread, and impact


S. D. Hacker, Dept of Zoology, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR 97331-2914, USA. E-mail:


Comparisons of congeneric species have provided unique insights into invasion ecology. Most often, non-native species are compared to native ones to look for traits predicting invasion success. In this study, we examine a different facet of congeneric comparisons in which both species are non-native. Ecological variability among non-native congeners might 1) lead to the inhibition or facilitation of either species’ ability to colonize and spread, 2) result in larger cumulative impacts due to synergies between species, and 3) depend on the physical context of the invaded habitat. To explore these possibilities, we studied the distribution and abundance of two non-native beach grasses: European beach grass Ammophila arenaria and American beach grass Ammophila breviligulata, their interaction with one another, and their biotic and physical impacts on dune ecosystems of the Pacific coast of North America. We found that over a two-decade period, A. breviligulata has increased its dominance over A. arenaria on dunes where it was originally planted in 1935 and has actively spread to new sites formerly dominated by A. arenaria. Our results also show that dune plant species richness was lower at A. breviligulata sites, although there was an increase in the native beach grass Elymus mollis. More significantly, we found that the two grass species are associated with significantly different foredune shapes that are likely controlled by a combination of variability in sand supply along the coast and subtle differences in the congeners’ morphology and growth form. These differences have significant implications for the coastal protection services of dunes to humans and the conservation of native species. They provide a cautionary tale on the impacts of introducing novel species based purely on analogy with closely related species.