, Volume 167, Issue 3, pp 759–769 | Cite as

Disturbance governs dominance of an invasive forb in a temporary wetland

  • J. N. Price
  • P. J. Berney
  • D. Ryder
  • R. D. B. Whalley
  • C. L. Gross
Community ecology - Original Paper


Dominance of invasive species is often assumed to be due to a superior ability to acquire resources. However, dominance in plant communities can arise through multiple interacting mechanisms, including disturbance. Inter-specific competition can be strongly affected by abiotic conditions, which can determine the outcome of competitive interactions. We evaluated competition and disturbance as mechanisms governing dominance of Phyla canescens (hereafter lippia), an invasive perennial forb from South America, in Paspalum distichum (perennial grass, hereafter water couch) meadows in floodplain wetlands of eastern Australia. Water couch meadows (in the study area) are listed under the Ramsar Convention due to their significance as habitat for migratory waterbirds. In the field, we monitored patterns of vegetation boundaries between the two species in response to flooding. Under controlled glasshouse conditions, we explored competitive interactions between the native water couch and lippia subject to different soil moisture/inundation regimes. We did this using a pairwise factorial glasshouse experiment that manipulated neighbor density (9 treatments) and soil moisture/inundation (4 treatments). In the field trial, inundation increased the cover of water couch. Under more controlled conditions, the invader had a competitive effect on the native species only under dry soil conditions, and was strongly inhibited by inundation. This suggests that dry conditions favor the growth of the invader and wetter (more historical) conditions favor the native grass. In this system, invader dominance is governed by altered disturbance regimes which give the invader a competitive advantage over the native species.


Competition Flooding Paspalum distichum Phyla canescens Restoration 



We thank Jennifer Firn and two anonymous reviewers for very useful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This project was funded by the New South Wales Government Wetland Recovery Program and the Commonwealth Government Water for the Future Plan, and the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC and the Australian Commonwealth Government’s Natural Heritage Trust. We thank Peter Clarke for assistance in the design of the glasshouse experiment. We thank Lars Götzenberger for assistance with R graphics. We thank Matt Macdonald and Morag Stewart for assistance in the field, and Jess and Ian Berney for assistance in the glasshouse. We thank Mick Faint for advice on the glasshouse study. Carlos Munoz and Cate McGregor assisted with GIS analysis. We thank Bruce and Jen Southeron for site access and accommodation and ongoing support for wetland research. We declare that this study complies with the current laws of Australia, where it was performed.

Supplementary material

442_2011_2027_MOESM1_ESM.doc (334 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 334 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. N. Price
    • 1
    • 3
  • P. J. Berney
    • 1
  • D. Ryder
    • 1
  • R. D. B. Whalley
    • 2
  • C. L. Gross
    • 1
  1. 1.Ecosystem ManagementUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of BotanyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  3. 3.Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

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