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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Predicting invasion in grassland ecosystems: Is exotic dominance the real embarrassment of richness?

item Seabloom, Eric -
item Borer, Elizabeth -
item Buckley, Yvonne -
item Cleland, Elsa -
item Davies, Kendi -
item Firn, Jennifer -
item Harpole, Stanley -
item Hautier, Yann -
item Lind, Eric -
item Macdougall, Andrew -
item Orrock, John -
item Prober, Suzanne -
item Adler, Peter -
item Alberti, Juan -
item Anderson, T. -
item Bakker, Jonathan -
item Biederman, Lori -
item Blumenthal, Dana
item Brown, Cynthia -
item Brudvig, Lars -
item Caldeira, Maria -
item Chu, Chengjin -
item Crawley, Michael -
item Daleo, Pedro -
item Damschen, Ellen -
item D'Antonio, Carla -
item Decrappeo, Nicole -
item Dickman, Chris -
item Du, Guozhen -
item Fay, Philip
item Frater, Paul -
item Gruner, Daniel -
item Hagenah, Nicole -
item Hector, Andrew -
item Helm, Aveliina -
item Hillebrand, Helmut -
item Hofmockel, Kirsten -
item Humphries, Hope -
item Iribarne, Oscar -
item Jin, Virginia
item Kay, Adam -
item Kirkman, Kevin -
item Klein, Julia -
item Knops, Johannes -
item La Pierre, Kimberly -
item Ladwig, Laura -
item Lambrinos, John -
item Leakey, Andrew -
item Li, Qi -
item Li, Wei -
item Mcculley, Rebecca -
item Melbourne, Brett -
item Mitchell, Charles -
item Moore, Joslin -
item Morgan, John -
item Mortensen, Brent -
item O'Halloran, Lydia -
item Partel, Meelis -
item Pascual, Jesus -
item Pyke, David -
item Risch, Anita -
item Salguero-Gomez, Roberto -
item Sankaran, Mahesh -
item Schuetz, Martin -
item Simonsen, Anna -
item Smith, Melinda -
item Stevens, Carly -
item Sullivan, Lauren -
item Wardle, Glenda -
item Wolkovich, Elizabeth -
item Wragg, Peter -
item Wright, Justin -
item Yang, Louie -

Submitted to: Global Change Biology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 14, 2013
Publication Date: October 16, 2013
Repository URL:
Citation: Seabloom, E., Borer, E.T., Buckley, Y., Cleland, E., Davies, K., Firn, J., Harpole, S., Hautier, Y., Lind, E., Macdougall, A., Orrock, J.L., Prober, S.M., Adler, P., Alberti, J., Anderson, T.M., Bakker, J.D., Biederman, L.A., Blumenthal, D.M., Brown, C.S., Brudvig, L.A., Caldeira, M., Chu, C., Crawley, M.J., Daleo, P., Damschen, E.I., D'Antonio, C.M., Decrappeo, N.M., Dickman, C.R., Du, G., Fay, P.A., Frater, P., Gruner, D.S., Hagenah, N., Hector, A., Helm, A., Hillebrand, H., Hofmockel, K.S., Humphries, H.C., Iribarne, O., Jin, V.L., Kay, A., Kirkman, K.P., Klein, J.A., Knops, J.M., La Pierre, K.J., Ladwig, L.M., Lambrinos, J.G., Leakey, A.D., Li, Q., Li, W., McCulley, R., Melbourne, B., Mitchell, C.E., Moore, J.L., Morgan, J., Mortensen, B., O'Halloran, L.R., Partel, M., Pascual, J., Pyke, D.A., Risch, A.C., Salguero-Gomez, R., Sankaran, M., Schuetz, M., Simonsen, A., Smith, M., Stevens, C., Sullivan, L., Wardle, G.M., Wolkovich, E.M., Wragg, P.D., Wright, J., Yang, L. 2013. Predicting invasion in grassland ecosystems: Is exotic dominance the real embarrassment of richness? Global Change Biology. 19:3677-3687.

Interpretive Summary: Introduced exotic plant species comprise 20-80% of some plant communities, and can cause large losses in the abilities of ecosystems to provide crucial goods and services. However, not all systems become dominated by exotic species, and the reasons for their uneven distributions remain unclear. This study measured exotic plant species numbers (richness) and abundance (cover) in 54 grasslands from nine countries on four continents. We compared exotic species abundance with several factors that could influence abundance, including climate, and native species productivity and diversity. The study shows that exotic abundance is most strongly associated with geographic regions, and that species abundance was a better predictor than richness of exotic species impacts on ecosystems. Future studies of exotic species impacts should focus on their degree of dominance of the plant communities rather than on numbers of species.

Technical Abstract: For two centuries there has been a perception that while exotic species are dominant in many areas, others remain largely unaffected. This unquantified observation suggests a fundamental ecological question: why do exotics dominate some locations and not others? While invasions are clearly important globally, there have been no globally-replicated studies that measure exotic dominance. Rather, there has been a focus on exotic richness, because of the lack of standardized data on exotic abundance. We measured the richness and cover of exotic plant species in 54 grass-dominated ecosystems in nine countries on four continents, ranging from salt marshes to alpine tundra. We found that exotic richness was a poor proxy for exotic dominance at low levels of exotic richness, because exotic richness cannot resolve sites that had a few unimportant invaders (low exotic richness and cover) and those that were dominated by a few highly abundant exotics (low exotic richness and high exotic cover). We also quantified a bimodal pattern of invasion, with nearly all sites either dominated by exotic species or largely uninvaded, and few had an even mix of natives and exotics. Exotic dominance varied mostly among regions (subcontinents) and ecosystems with little variation among sites and blocks nested with ecosystem types. Exotic species were most dominant in areas that had low native grass richness at the site or regional scale suggesting a role for biotic resistance, as grasses comprise the most aggressive invaders. This work underscores the need to move beyond richness as a measure of exotic impact.

Last Modified: 8/28/2016
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