Plant communities dominated by exotics tend to be less diverse than plant communities dominated by natives. Apparently, few people have been curious enough to plan an experiment to try to further understand why this is the case. A recent paper in ecology letters Brian Wilsey and collaborators showed the results of an experiment designed to explore this. What they did is to create monocultures of a series of exotics and natives species, and mix cultures of exotics (a mix of 9 exotics, zero natives ) and mix cultures of natives (9 natives, zero exotics). They found that large exotics (plants with high aboveground biomass) tended to be even bigger when growing in mix cultures than in the monocultures, so big plants got bigger, which tend to reduce plant richness since it may displace other plants. On the other hand, for natives, small plants tended to get bigger, which is a mechanism for promoting biodiversity (communities may be more even). This research highlights the importance of understanding the mechanisms of plant coexistence and the fact that exotic species may behave very differently than native species.
Wilsey, B., Teaschner, T., Daneshgar, P., Isbell, F., & Polley, H. (2009). Biodiversity maintenance mechanisms differ between native and novel exotic-dominated communities Ecology Letters, 12 (5), 432-442 DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01298.x
ESA Policy News May 17
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