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What makes a weed a weed: life history traits of native and exotic plants in the USA

Abstract

I compared ten life history traits (vegetative reproduction, breeding system, compatibility, pollination system, shade tolerance, habitat, life span, life form, morphology, and toxicity) from two existing databases for the 19,960 plant species that occur in the USA. I used two-way tests of independence to determine if there were significant life history traits that distinguish weeds from non-weeds, exotic weeds from native weeds, and invasive exotic weeds from non-invasive exotic weeds. Life span was the most significant life history trait for weeds in general; weeds were more likely to be annuals and biennials and less likely to perennials than non-weeds. In addition, vegetative reproduction, breeding system, compatibility, shade tolerance, and life form were related to life span. Annual and biennial weeds (whether native, exotic, or exotic invasives) were more likely to be wetland adapted, armed, and toxic than annual or biennial non-weeds. Perennial weeds (whether native, exotic, or exotic invasives) were less likely to be forbs or subshrubs, and more likely to be wetland adapted, toxic, shade intolerant, grasses, vines and trees than perennial non-weeds. Exotic annual and perennial weeds were less likely to be wetland species than native weeds, but more likely to be wetland species than non-weeds. Invasive exotic weeds, in contrast, were less likely to be forbs and more likely to be perennial, monoecious, self-incompatible, and trees and than non-invasive exotics.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Elaine K. Sutherland, Jane Kapler Smith, Jeanne Chambers, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Steve Sutherland.

Appendices

Appendices

For ease of interpretation, the Appendices have a similar format. For Appendices 1 and 3, the first column presents life history traits and the life history attributes associated with each trait. The second column presents the number of all species (weed + non-weed) exhibiting each attribute. The third column presents the percentage of all species that exhibit each attribute. If weediness is independent of the life history trait (i.e., if the life history attribute does not confer a selective advantage), this column is the expected percentage distribution for both weed and non-weed species. The succeeding columns present results for the four weeds lists (or three life spans). Within each weeds list (or three life spans), the first column shows the total number of species exhibiting each attribute, and the second column shows the percentage of species that exhibit each attribute.

The results of the exotic vs. native weed data analyses are presented in Appendix 2. The first column presents the life history traits and the life history attributes associated with each trait. The following columns present results for the four weeds lists. Within each weeds list, the first column presents the number of all weed species (exotic + native) exhibiting each attribute. The second column presents the percentage of all weed species that exhibit each attribute. If nativity is independent of the life history trait, then the third column is the expected percentage distribution for exotic and native weed species. The third column shows the total number of exotic weed species exhibiting each attribute, and the fourth column shows the percentage of exotic weed species that exhibit each attribute. Although data analyses were based on number of weed and non-weed (or exotic and native weed) species, only the weed (or exotic weed) data are presented in the Appendices to save space.

Appendix 1

Table 3

Table 3 Number and percent of species that exhibit life history characteristics for all (weeds and non-weeds) plants and for weedy plants as defined by four sources

Appendix 2

Table 4

Table 4 Number and percent of species that exhibit life history characteristics for all (native and exotic) weeds and for exotic weeds as defined by four sources

Appendix 3

Table 5

Table 5 Number and percent of species that exhibit life history characteristics for all plants (weeds and non-weeds) and for annual, biennial, and perennial plants

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Sutherland, S. What makes a weed a weed: life history traits of native and exotic plants in the USA. Oecologia 141, 24–39 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1628-x

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Keywords

  • Life span
  • Compatibility
  • Toxicity
  • Vegetative reproduction
  • Invasive