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Home and away: Are invasive plant species really that special?
Date:2/1/2011

Invasive plant species are a serious environmental, economic and social problem worldwide. Their abundance can lead to lost native biodiversity and ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling.

Despite substantial research, however, little is known about why some species dominate new habitats over native plants that technically should have the advantage.

A common but rarely tested assumption, say biologists, is that these plants behave in a special way, making them more abundant when introduced into communities versus native plants that are already there.

If true, it would mean that biosecurity screening procedures need to address how species will behave once introduced to nonnative communities--very difficult to get right, researchers have found.

Scientists in a global collaboration called the Nutrient Network tested this "abundance assumption" for 26 plant species at 39 locations on four continents and found numerous problems with it.

The results are published in a paper in the current issue of the journal Ecology Letters.

"Predicting success of invading species is difficult and uncertain, but very important," says Henry Gholz, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which funds the Nutrient Network.

"The Nutrient Network has enabled a field test of one of the most basic assumptions of current models," says Gholz, "and found it lacking. But, the results could lead to better predictions in the future."

Twenty of the 26 species examined had a similar or lower abundance at introduced versus native sites.

"The results suggest that invasive plants have a similar or lower abundance at both introduced and native ranges, and that increases in species abundance are unusual," says scientist Jennifer Firn from Queensland University of Technology and CSIRO, Australia, the lead author of the paper's 36 co-authors.

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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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