The Role of Propagule Pressure, Genetic Diversity and Microsite Availability for Senecio vernalis Invasion
Trait-based resource competition in plants, wherein more similar plants compete more strongly for resources, is a foundation of niche-based explanations for the maintenance of diversity in plant communities. Alternatively, neutral theory predicts that community diversity can be maintained despite equivalent resource requirements among species. We examined interactions at three life history stages (germination, survival, and juvenile-adult growth) for three native and three exotic California annual species in a glasshouse experiment. We varied plant density and species composition in small pots, with pots planted with either intraspecific seeds or in a three species mix of intra- and interspecific neighbors. We saw a range of facilitative, neutral, and competitive interactions that varied significantly by species, rather than by native or exotic status. There were more competitive interactions at the emergence and juvenile-adult growth stages and more facilitative interactions for survival. Consequently, the relative strength of competition in intraspecific versus mixed-species communities depended on whether we considered only the juvenile-adult growth stage or the entire life history of the interacting plants. Using traditional analysis of juvenile-adult growth only, all species showed negative density-dependent interactions for final biomass production. However, when the net effect of plant interactions from seed to adult was considered, which is a prediction of population growth, two native species ceased to show negative density dependence, and the difference between intraspecific and mixed-species competition was only significant for one exotic species. Results were consistent with predictions of neutral, rather than niche, theory for five of six species.