, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 703-716
Date: 13 Sep 2007

Do alien plants on Mediterranean islands tend to invade different niches from native species?

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Abstract

In order to understand invasions, it is important to know how alien species exploit opportunities in unfamiliar ecosystems. For example, are aliens concentrated in niches under-exploited by native communities, or widely distributed across the ecological spectrum? To explore this question, we compared the niches occupied by 394 naturalized alien plants with a representative sample from the native flora of Mediterranean islands. When niche structure was described by a functional group categorization, the distribution of native and alien species was remarkably similar, although “succulent shrubs” and “trees with specialized animal pollination mechanisms” were under-represented in the native species pool. When niche structure was described by Grime’s CSR strategy, the positioning of aliens and natives differed more strongly. Stress-tolerance was much rarer amongst the aliens, and a competitive strategy was more prevalent at the habitat level. This pattern is similar to previous findings in temperate Europe, although in those regions it closely reflects patterns of native diversity. Stressed environments are much more dominant in the Mediterranean. We discuss a number of factors which may contribute to this difference, e.g., competitive and ruderal niches are often associated with anthropogenic habitats, and their high invasibility may be due partly to introduction patterns rather than to a greater efficiency of aliens at exploiting them. Thus far, the reasons for invasion success amongst introduced species have proved difficult to unravel. Despite some differences, our evidence suggests that alien species naturalize across a wide range of niches. Given that their ecologies therefore vary greatly, one may ask why such species should be expected to share predictable traits at all?