Mechanisms underlying the impacts of exotic annual grasses in a coastal California meadow
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Biological invasions can impact the abundance and diversity of native species, but the specific mechanisms remain poorly discerned. In California grasslands, invasion by European annual grasses has severely reduced the quality of habitat for native forb species. To understand how introduced grasses suppress native and exotic forbs, we examined the response of a Southern California grassland community to factorial removals of live grass and the litter produced in previous seasons. To examine the role that belowground competition for water plays in mediating the impact of grasses, we crossed grass and litter removal treatments with water addition. Our results show that forbs were almost equally suppressed by both competition from live grass and direct interference by litter. Water addition did not ameliorate the effect of grass competition, suggesting that water was not the resource for which plants compete. This evidence is consistent with the susceptibility of forbs to light limitation, especially considering that litter does not consume water or nutrients. Interestingly, despite different histories of co-occurrence with annual grass dominants, native and exotic forbs were comparably suppressed by exotic grasses. Our results indicate that suppression by both live and dead stems underlie the influence of exotic grasses on forb competitors.
KeywordsCompetition Grass Forb Invasion Invasive species Santa Monica Mountains
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