Community Ecology


, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 455-464

First online:

Multiple disturbances accelerate invasion of reed canary grass ( Phalaris arundinacea L.) in a mesocosm study

  • Suzanne M. KercherAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison Email author 
  • , Joy B. ZedlerAffiliated withDepartment of Botany and Arboretum, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Disturbances that intensify with agriculture and/or urban development are thought to promote the spread of invasive plants, such as the clonal perennial reed canary grass ( Phalaris arundinacea L). To test this relationship and interactions among disturbances, we subjected wet prairie assemblages within 1.1 m2 mesocosms to invasion by Phalaris and addition of nutrients, sediments, and flooding. Species richness decreased with the application of sediments and/or flooding of 4 consecutive weeks or longer. Losses of up to six dominant and subdominant species in these treatments increased light transmission through the plant canopy by as much as 400% over the control. Light availability in July and September was a strong predictor of end-of-season aboveground biomass of Phalaris. Phalaris was also 35% and 195% more productive when nutrients were added at low and high levels, respectively. Multiple factors in combination were usually additive in their effects on invasion, but sediments and nutrients interacted with flood regime to synergistically increase invasion in some cases. A separate experiment likewise revealed a synergistic interaction between added nutrients and simulated grazing. We suggest that multiple factors be mitigated simultaneously to reduce invasion of Phalaris.


Eutrophication Flooding Fluctuating resource hypothesis Invasibility Invasive species