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Invasive plant alters community and ecosystem dynamics by promoting native predators

Smith‐Ramesh, Lauren M.
Ecology 2017 v.98 no.3 pp. 751-761
Alliaria petiolata, Araneae, allelopathy, ecosystems, field experimentation, food webs, fruits, habitats, indigenous species, insects, invasive species, mustard greens, phosphorus, plants (botany), predators
Placing invasion in a more complete food web context expands our understanding of species invasions to reflect the inherent complexity of ecological networks. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has traditionally been predicted to dominate native communities through mechanisms embodied in popular hypotheses such as direct plant–plant interactions (allelopathy) and plant–herbivore interactions (enemy escape). However, garlic mustard also interacts directly with native predators by providing habitat for web‐building spiders, which colonize the dry fruit structures (siliques) that garlic mustard leaves behind after it senesces. This interaction may lead to altered food web structure, resulting previously unexamined invasion consequences. This idea was tested in a field experiment including three treatments in which garlic mustard siliques were left intact (S+), removed (S−), or native species dominated and garlic mustard was absent (N). When siliques were intact, estimated insect abundance was locally reduced in invaded plots compared to native plots, but this relationship disappeared when siliques were removed. Phosphorus availability and the growth of one native plant species were both elevated in invaded plots where siliques were intact compared to plots where siliques were removed. Results indicate that garlic mustard's close association with web‐building spiders initiates cascading invader impacts on the native community and ecosystem properties. This work supports recent theory suggesting that taking a broader food web perspective may help predict invasion impacts in different environmental contexts.