Invasion success in a marginal habitat: an experimental test of competitive ability and drought tolerance in Chromolaena odorata.

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Invasion success in a marginal habitat: an experimental test of competitive ability and drought tolerance in Chromolaena odorata.

PLoS One. 2013;8(8):e68274

Authors: te Beest M, Elschot K, Olff H, Etienne RS

Abstract
Climatic niche models based on native-range climatic data accurately predict invasive-range distributions in the majority of species. However, these models often do not account for ecological and evolutionary processes, which limit the ability to predict future range expansion. This might be particularly problematic in the case of invaders that occupy environments that would be considered marginal relative to the climatic niche in the native range of the species. Here, we assess the potential for future range expansion in the shrub Chromolaena odorata that is currently invading mesic savannas (>650 mm MAP) in South Africa that are colder and drier than most habitats in its native range. In a greenhouse experiment we tested whether its current distribution in South Africa can be explained by increased competitive ability and/or differentiation in drought tolerance relative to the native population. We compared aboveground biomass, biomass allocation, water use efficiency and relative yields of native and invasive C. odorata and the resident grass Panicum maximum in wet and dry conditions. Surprisingly, we found little differentiation between ranges. Invasive C. odorata showed no increased competitive ability or superior drought tolerance compared to native C. odorata. Moreover we found that P. maximum was a better competitor than either native or invasive C. odorata. These results imply that C. odorata is unlikely to expand its future range towards more extreme, drier, habitats beyond the limits of its current climatic niche and that the species’ invasiveness most likely depends on superior light interception when temporarily released from competition by disturbance. Our study highlights the fact that species can successfully invade habitats that are at the extreme end of their ranges and thereby contributes towards a better understanding of range expansion during species invasions.

PMID: 23936301 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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