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Positive diversity–invasibility relationship in species-rich semi-natural grassland at the neighbourhood scale

Zeiter, Michaela, Stampfli, Andreas
Annals of botany 2012 v.110 no.7 pp. 1385-1393
ecological invasion, grasslands, mortality, mycorrhizal fungi, seedlings, soil, species diversity
Background and Aims Attempts to answer the old question of whether high diversity causes high invasion resistance have resulted in an invasion paradox: while large-scale studies often find a positive relationship between diversity and invasibility, small-scale experimental studies often find a negative relationship. Many of the small-scale studies are conducted in artificial communities of even-aged plants. Species in natural communities, however, do not represent one simultaneous cohort and occur at various levels of spatial aggregation at different scales. This study used natural patterns of diversity to assess the relationship between diversity and invasibility within a uniformly managed, semi-natural community. Methods In species-rich grassland, one seed of each of ten species was added to each of 50 contiguous 16 cm ² quadrats within seven plots (8 × 100 cm). The emergence of these species was recorded in seven control plots, and establishment success was measured in relation to the species diversity of the resident vegetation at two spatial scales, quadrat (64 cm ²) within plots (800 cm ²) and between plots within the site (approx. 400 m ²) over 46 months. Key Results Invader success was positively related to resident species diversity and richness over a range of 28–37 species per plot. This relationship emerged 7 months after seed addition and remained over time despite continuous mortality of invaders. Conclusions Biotic resistance to plant invasion may play only a sub-ordinate role in species-rich, semi-natural grassland. As possible alternative explanations for the positive diversity–invasibility relationship are not clear, it is recommended that future studies elaborate fine-scale environmental heterogeneity in resource supplies or potential resource flows from resident species to seedlings by means of soil biological networks established by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.