The habitat and conduit functions of roads in the spread of three invasive plant species
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- Christen, D.C. & Matlack, G.R. Biol Invasions (2009) 11: 453. doi:10.1007/s10530-008-9262-x
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Nonnative plant species commonly occur along roadsides, and populations are often assumed to invade by spread along the road axis. To distinguish between the function of roadsides as movement corridors and as habitat, nonnative plant species were surveyed along roads in deciduous forest sites in southeastern Ohio, USA. The importance of road proximity was tested by comparing nonnative species abundance in 100 m transects along roads with transects in undisturbed forest. Nonnative species were most abundant and most frequently observed in roadside sites in valleys. Three common species were chosen for closer scrutiny. In a seed sowing experiment roads and open sites proved to be better locations for the germination and growth of Microstegium vimineum than non-roadside and closed-canopy sites. Tussilago farfara and Rosa multiflora occurred in a small number of disjunct patches suggesting infrequent arrival in the sampled transects. Both species were strongly clustered at scales consistent with diffusive spread by vegetative growth and short-range seed dispersal. Comparisons of distributions parallel and perpendicular to roads showed no evidence for enhanced dispersal along the road axis. Microstegium distributions were correlated with local light availability implying site saturation. Microstegium micro-distributions suggested that spread along the road axis was facilitated by movement of dormant seeds in road maintenance. Thus, roadsides appear to function as both habitat and a conduit for population expansion, with the rate of spread dependent on the life history of the individual species. These results suggest a hierarchical process of regional invasion, with different dispersal mechanisms functioning at different spatial scales.