Original Paper

Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 9, pp 3195-3204

First online:

Leaf litter and understory canopy shade limit the establishment, growth and reproduction of Microstegium vimineum

  • Jonathon W. SchrammAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers UniversityDivision of Science and Math Education, Michigan State University Email author 
  • , Joan G. EhrenfeldAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers University

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The invasive grass Microstegium vimineum is widely distributed in closed-canopy forests, but often is patchily distributed under uniform canopy conditions. We hypothesized that the occurrence of patches of invasion may be related to two interacting factors, the presence of dense understory shrub layers and the presence of thick litter layers on the forest floor. Seeds of M. vimineum were sown in plots located under or distant from Lindera benzoin (spicebush) shrubs, and with or without litter manipulations (none, half of natural amount, naturally occurring amount, double the natural amount) in a mature forest in central New Jersey, USA. Populations were monitored for germination and survivorship, as well as growth and fecundity of surviving plants. Neither shrub-associated shade nor litter depth affected seed germination, but both factors affected survivorship, growth and reproduction. The presence of shade from the shrubs reduced survivorship and seed set. Seeds germinating on top of the litter layer also experience higher mortality than seeds germinating under litter and in contact with soil. These results suggest that the interacting effects of shade from understory strata and deep litter layers may limit the spread of M. vimineum. The loss of shrub layers due to intense deer browse and other factors may thus accelerate the spread of this highly invasive species.


Microstegium vimineum Invasive annual plants Germination Survivorship Deer herbivory