Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 367, Issue 1, pp 339-346

First online:

Decoupling litter barrier and soil moisture influences on the establishment of an invasive grass

  • Robert J. WarrenIIAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Buffalo State CollegeSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University Email author 
  • , Volker BahnAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Wright State University
  • , Mark A. BradfordAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University

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Background and aims

Through recruitment, plants establish in novel environments. Recruitment also is the stage where plants undergo the highest mortality. We investigate the recruitment niche for Microstegium vimineum, an annual grass from East Asia spreading throughout eastern North American forests.


Current observational and greenhouse research indicates that M. vimineum recruitment may be inhibited by leaf litter and promoted by soil moisture; we use field studies to experimentally test how these factors influence M. vimineum germination, seedling survival and reproduction. Specifically, we introduce M. vimineum seeds into forest microhabitats with experimentally varied levels of soil moisture and leaf litter.


Soil moisture increases M. vimineum germination regardless of leaf litter thickness and ameliorates seedling mortality in deep leaf litter. Seed production per m2 increases with watering, reflecting higher germination and survival, whereas per capita seed production increases with leaf litter thickness, reflecting density-dependent limits on seed production.


The interactive effects of varied levels of soil moisture and leaf litter thickness on key M. vimineum life history stages highlight the need to consider multiple drivers, such as rainfall and local forest disturbance, when assessing how soil properties influence the establishment of invasive plants.


Exotic species Japanese stiltgrass Microstegium vimineum Plant invasion Propagule pressure Understory