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Fluctuating resources, disturbance and plant strategies: diverse mechanisms underlying plant invasions

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the hypothesis that non-native plant invasions are related to fluctuating resource availability as proposed by Davis et al. (2000). I measured relative functional responses of both invasive and native plants to changed resource availability due to nutrient enrichment and rainfall, and to increased disturbance. Data are presented from studies in two contrasting ecosystems. First is a series of glasshouse and field experiments on the invader Hieracium lepidulum and associated invasive and native species in subalpine temperate New Zealand. Second is a field study of invasive and native plant responses to altered disturbance regimes and rainfall from tropical savannas of north eastern Australia. Invaders responded differently from native species to changes in resource availability in both subalpine and tropical studies. However, invaders differed among themselves showing that different species exploit different functional niches to invade their respective habitats. These findings contribute to the contention that the fluctuating resource hypothesis does not provide a universal explanation for plant invasions. The diverse functional responses to increased resource availability among invaders in this and previous studies suggest that the cause of invasion depends on unique combinations of habitat and functional attributes of invaders and native assemblages. Such findings imply that universal predictions of what will happen under climate change scenarios across the globe will be difficult to make.