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Not novel, just better: competition between native and non-native plants in California grasslands that share species traits


Invasive plants have often been shown to possess novel traits such as the ability to fix nitrogen, access unused resource pools, or the ability to exude allelopathic chemicals. We describe a case of a successful invasion where the native and non-native species are very similar in most life-history characteristics including their growth forms, lifespan, and degree of summertime activity. Data from permanent transects suggest that exotic perennial grass invaders can establish into intact native-dominated grasslands, achieving cover values from 6 to 71% over several years. We also established a 4-year competition experiment to test the effect of each group—the native and non-native perennial grasses—on the other. Competitive interactions were found to consistently favor the non-native grasses: native perennial grass productivity was significantly lower in plots with exotic perennial grasses as compared to plots without exotic perennial grasses. By contrast, productivity of the exotic perennial grasses was not reduced by the presence of the native perennial grasses. These results suggest that competitive ability, rather than a unique trait, has contributed to the success of the exotic perennial grasses in our system. Management tools to control exotic perennial grass invasions are likely to negatively influence native perennial grass populations, as strategies that succeed against the invasive species may kill or reduce the native species as well.

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