Invasive plants change, but don’t master all conditions

Invasive plant species do change more in response to environmental conditions than other plant species, a team of Australian researchers has found. This ability to change has long been considered a key factor in what makes invasive species, well, invasive. In their paper in Ecology Letters, the research team analyzed the published literature on 75 pairs of similar plants, where one of the pair was a known invasive, and the other a non-invasive species. They were able to confirm that the invasive plants had greater phenotypic plasticity.

They also found, however, that the ability to change didn’t necessarily help the invasive plants when times got tough. They found that the non-invasive plants fared better when there was a low or average amount of resources, such as light, nutrients, or water. They point out that invasive species are jacks of all trades, or at least all environmental conditions, but masters of only some.

They note in a very brief section that while the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere generated by human activity favors invasive species, the stressful environmental conditions (such as drought) that the accompanying climate change brings can favor non-invasive species.

The paper in Ecology Letters is open access, and is available here.

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