, Volume 168, Issue 4, pp 1091–1102 | Cite as

Invasion of an intact plant community: the role of population versus community level diversity

  • Cynthia C. ChangEmail author
  • Melinda D. Smith
Community ecology - Original Paper


To improve the understanding of how native plant diversity influences invasion, we examined how population and community diversity may directly and indirectly be related to invasion in a natural field setting. Due to the large impact of the dominant C4 grass species (Andropogon gerardii) on invasion resistance of tallgrass prairie, we hypothesized that genetic diversity and associated traits within a population of this species would be more strongly related to invasion than diversity or traits of the rest of the community. We added seeds of the exotic invasive C4 grass, A. bladhii, to 1-m2 plots in intact tallgrass prairie that varied in genetic diversity of A. gerardii and plant community diversity, but not species richness. We assessed relationships among genetic diversity and traits of A. gerardii, community diversity, community aggregated traits, resource availability, and early season establishment and late-season persistence of the invader using structural equation modeling (SEM). SEM models suggested that community diversity likely enhanced invasion indirectly through increasing community aggregated specific leaf area as a consequence of more favorable microclimatic conditions for seedling establishment. In contrast, neither population nor community diversity was directly or indirectly related to late season survival of invasive seedlings. Our research suggests that while much of diversity–invasion research has separately focused on the direct effects of genetic and species diversity, when taken together, we find that the role of both levels of diversity on invasion resistance may be more complex, whereby effects of diversity may be primarily indirect via traits and vary depending on the stage of invasion.


Andropogon bladhii Dominant species Genetic diversity Grassland Tallgrass prairie 



This research was funded, in part, by a Yale University Institute for Biospheric Studies, Field Ecology grant to C.C.C. We thank M. Avolio, D. Hoover, V. Nelson, T. Schreck for assistance in the field and J. Beaulieu for assistance with phylogenetic analyses. Konza Prairie LTER and Yale Science Hill DNA facility provided additional support. Discussion and comments from two anonymous reviewers, M. Avolio, J. Fridley, and the Smith/Post lab improved the manuscript. The experiment conducted complies with the current laws of the United States of America where the experiments were performed.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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