Ecological filtering of exotic plants in an Australian sub-alpine environment

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Abstract

We investigated some of the factors influencing exotic invasion of native sub-alpine plant communities at a site in southeast Australia. Structure, floristic composition and invasibility of the plant communities and attributes of the invasive species were studied. To determine the plant characteristics correlated with invasiveness, we distinguished between roadside invaders, native community invaders and non-invasive exotic species, and compared these groups across a range of traits including functional group, taxonomic affinity, life history, mating system and morphology. Poa grasslands and Eucalyptus-Poa woodlands contained the largest number of exotic species, although all communities studied appeared resilient to invasion by most species. Most community invaders were broad-leaved herbs while roadside invaders contained both herbs and a range of grass species. Over the entire study area the richness and cover of native and exotic herbaceous species were positively related, but exotic herbs were more negatively related to cover of specific functional groups (e.g. trees) than native herbs. Compared with the overall pool of exotic species, those capable of invading native plant communities were disproportionately polycarpic, Asteracean and cross-pollinating. Our data support the hypothesis that strong ecological filtering of exotic species generates an exotic assemblage containing few dominant species and which functionally converges on the native assemblage. These findings contrast with those observed in the majority of invaded natural systems. We conclude that the invasion of closed sub-alpine communities must be viewed in terms of the unique attributes of the invading species, the structure and composition of the invaded communities and the strong extrinsic physical and climatic factors typical of the sub-alpine environment.

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