, Volume 163, Issue 3, pp 775–784 | Cite as

Early emergence and resource availability can competitively favour natives over a functionally similar invader

  • Jennifer FirnEmail author
  • Andrew S. MacDougall
  • Susanne Schmidt
  • Yvonne M. Buckley
Community ecology - Original Paper


Invasive plant species can form dense populations across large tracts of land. Based on these observations of dominance, invaders are often described as competitively superior, despite little direct evidence of competitive interactions with natives. The few studies that have measured competitive interactions have tended to compare an invader to natives that are unlikely to be strong competitors because they are functionally different. In this study, we measured competitive interactions among an invasive grass and two Australian native grasses that are functionally similar and widely distributed. We conducted a pair-wise glasshouse experiment, where we manipulated both biotic factors (timing of establishment, neighbour identity and density) and abiotic factors (nutrients and timing of water supply). We found that the invader significantly suppressed the performance of the natives; but its suppression ability was contingent on resource levels, with pulsed water/low nutrients or continuous watering reducing its competitive effects. The native grasses were able to suppress the performance of the invader when given a 3-week head-start, suggesting the invader may be incapable of establishing unless it emerges first, including in its own understorey. These findings provide insight for restoration, as the competitive effect of a functionally similar invader may be reduced by altering abiotic and biotic conditions in favour of natives.


Competitive effect and response Facilitation and suppression Pulsed water regime Inter- and intraspecific competition Nutrient availability 



Thank you to Richard Unwin and Karri Hartley for their assistance throughout the glasshouse competition trial including setting up the experiment, measurements and harvesting. We also thank Lawrie Stephenson and Nikki Sims for help setting up the glasshouse competition trial. Thank you also to Scott Collins and two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved this manuscript considerably. Thank you to Richard Hobbs, Ian Lunt, Alan House and Anna Richardson for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Funding was provided by a Science and Innovation Award from the Australia Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australia Bureau of Rural Sciences (J.F.), CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems (J.F.), Wildlife Preservation Society (J.F.), Ecological Society of Australia (J.F.), University of Queensland Graduate School Travel Award (J.F.), and an ARC Australian Research Fellowship and ARC grants (LP0667489, DP0771387) (Y.B.). We declare that this study complies with the current laws of Australia, where it was performed.

Supplementary material

442_2010_1583_MOESM1_ESM.doc (76 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 75 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Firn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew S. MacDougall
    • 2
  • Susanne Schmidt
    • 3
  • Yvonne M. Buckley
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.CSIRO Sustainable EcosystemsSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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