Experimental evidence for an alkali ecotype of Lolium multiflorum, an exotic invasive annual grass in the Central Valley, CA, USA
One of the characteristics of highly invaded ecosystems is that exotic species are often poor invaders of edaphically severe sites, which become refuges for native flora. To investigate the invasive potential of Lolium multiflorum (Per.) into alkali sites in California, an ex-situ reciprocal transfer experiment was carried out using seeds from populations of L. multiflorum taken from three sites differing in alkalinity (and inundation), including alkali sink soils (pH 8.5) and sink matrix soils (pH 7.4) located within meters of each other, and non-sink soils (pH 5.0) located several km away. Survivorship, plant height, leaf number and seed production were assessed. In addition, a native composite, Hemizonia pungens (Hick.), commonly found on alkali sinks was also sampled at the sink and sink matrix microsites. Lolium multiflorum plants grown from alkali sink and sink matrix seeds produced fewer leaves and seeds but were taller than plants grown from non-alkali seeds, the latter perhaps an adaptation to frequently inundated soils. Non-alkali genotypes fared poorly in sink soils for all traits, both in comparison to their growth on non-sink soils, and in comparison to the sink and sink edge genotypes. This suggests the existence of L. multiflorum ecotypes adapted to inundated alkali sinks, a genotypic difference that occurs on a broad spatial scale (kilometers), but not so obviously on the micro-site scale (meters) between sink and sink matrix populations. These data suggest that the absence of exotic invasives from alkali sites may be temporary if they are evolving tolerance for these severe sites, and this may threaten the future of the native alkali specialists that currently find refuge in these sites.
Keywordsecotype Lolium multiflorum Hemizonia pungens invasive species reciprocal transfer
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Sincerest thanks go to Ron Lane and the staff at the Environmental Horticulture Greenhouse, UC Davis. We also thank Richard Evans, John McKay, Marcel Rejmanek, Jim Richards, the staff of DANR lab UC Davis, and Cliff Feldheim of the Alkali Grasslands Preserve, Center of Natural Lands Management for all their help and advice. John McKay and anonymous reviewers commented on the ms.
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