Seed density is more effective than multi-trait limiting similarity in controlling grassland resistance against plant invasions in mesocosms
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Question: Disturbed areas offer great opportunities for restoring native biodiversity,but they are also prone to invasion by alien plants. Following the limiting similarityhypothesis, we address the question of whether or not similarity of plant functional traits helps developing seed mixtures of native communities with high resistance to invasive species at an early stage of restoration. Location: Centre of Greenhouses and Laboratories Dürnast, Technische Universität München, Freising, Germany. Methods: Using a system of linear equations, we designed native communities maximizing the similarity between the native and two invasive species according to ten functional traits. We used native grassland plants, two invasive alien species that are often problematic in disturbed areas (i.e., Ambrosia artemisiifolia and Solidago gigantea) and trait information obtained from databases. The two communities were then tested for resistance against establishment of the two invaders separately in a greenhouse experiment. We measured height of the invasive species and above-ground biomass, along with leaf area index, 4 and 8 months after sowing respectively. Results: Both invasive species were successfully reduced by the native community designed to suppress S. gigantea dominated by small-seeded species. These results could be considered as partial support for the limiting similarity hypothesis. However, given the success of this mixture against both invasive species, suppression was better explained by a seed density effect resulting from the smaller seed mass of the native species included in this mixture. Further, the dominance of a fast-developing competitive species could also contribute to its success. Conclusions: There was no unequivocal support for the limiting similarity hypothesis in terms of the traits selected. Instead we found that increasing seeding density of native species and selecting species with a fast vegetative development is an effective way to suppress invasive plants during early stages of restoration. If limiting similarity is used to design communities for restoration, early life-history traits should be taken into account.