Relationships between canopy complexity and germination microsites for Phalaris arundinacea L.
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Microsites that prevent seed germination are critical for slowing the invasion of native plant communities by aggressive, clonal species. A suitable model for study is the clonal grass, Phalaris arundinacea, which reproduces prolifically from seed and is spreading into wetlands across temperate North America. Knowing that light conditions control its seed germination in the laboratory and that light varies with canopy complexity in a Wisconsin fen, we tested multiple attributes of microsites under spatially and temporally dynamic canopies (namely, presence/absence of a matrix species, number of species in the canopy, plus indirect effects of three soil water levels) for their control of germination in microcosms. Our 6-species canopies + the matrix of Glyceria striata had the densest cover and reduced P. arundinacea germination to 1.9%, compared to 7.3% for 1-species canopies + the matrix. After selectively removing canopy components, germination increased to 36.1% for 6-species and 33.0% for 1-species canopies. Comparing canopies with each of the six species, germination declined in relation to increasing leaf width. Given moist soil, P. arundinacea germination microsites are determined by canopy complexity, which affects light penetration, which in turn determines germination rate.