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Plant traits can be used to understand a range of ecological processes, including competition from invasive species. The extent to which native and invasive species are competing via limiting similarity or trait hierarchies has important implications for the management of invaded communities. We screened 47 native species that co-occur with Festuca perennis, a dominant invader in California serpentine grassland, for traits pertaining to resource use and acquisition. We then grew F. perennis with ten species spanning a range of functional similarity in pairwise competition trials. Functionally similar species did not have a strong adverse effect on F. perennis performance as would be expected by limiting similarity theory. Phylogenetic relatedness, which may integrate a number of functional traits, was also a poor predictor of competitive outcome. Instead, species with high specific root length, low root to shoot biomass ratio, and low leaf nitrogen concentration were more effective at suppressing the growth of F. perennis. Our results suggest that fitness differences (i.e., trait hierarchies) may be more important than niche differences (i.e., limiting similarity) in structuring competitive outcomes in this system and may be a promising approach for the restoration of invaded systems.


This article was originally published in Ecology, volume 97, in 2016. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.1484


Ecological Society of America



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