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Priority effects vary with species identity and origin in an experiment varying the timing of seed arrival

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Abstract

Exotic species are sometimes phenologically distinct from native species in the invaded community, allowing them to be active when there may be reduced competition for resources. In southern California, annual species are particularly problematic invaders, and prior work has shown that these species germinate earlier in the growing season, giving them a competitive advantage over later-germinating native species. This result begs the question, if being active earlier is advantageous, why have not native species adapted earlier cues for germination? We hypothesized native species would benefit less from earlier germination than exotic species (potentially due to slower growth following germination), thus negating potential selection for early germination. Here we manipulated planting time for common native and exotic species, growing them in all possible species pairs, to evaluate how competitive outcomes were altered by the time of arrival and the origin of competing species. In contrast to our hypotheses, the exotic species often had lower biomass when planted first, potentially due to disturbance when the second species was planted. In contrast, three out of our four native species benefited from earlier planting (a priority effect). Unlike the potential benefit of arriving early, we found no evidence that being planted one week later resulted in a competitive disadvantage, when compared to being planted simultaneously with a competitor. Further, we found that the magnitude and even direction of priority effects varied depending on the identity of the interacting species. Together these results suggest that a lack of directional selection may prevent adaptation towards earlier germination times of native species. Although this experiment was conducted with a limited suite of species, the results show that the role of seasonal priority effects varies among species, and that native species could benefit from seasonal priority effects in restoration efforts even when in competition with fast-growing exotic annual species.

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