Effects of disease emergence on invasive grass impacts


Invasive species impact ecosystems through their large abundances and strong per capita effects. Enemies can regulate abundances and per capita effects, but are notably absent for many new invaders. However, invaders acquire enemies over time and as they spread; processes hypothesized to mitigate negative invader impacts by reducing abundance or per capita effects. Alternatively, properties of invaders or acquired enemies, such as an enemy’s ability to attack multiple species, may hinder enemy mitigation of invader impacts. We used field experiments to evaluate disease mitigation of invader impacts using the invasive grass Microstegium vimineum, which hosts an emerging fungal disease, and a native grass competitor, Elymus virginicus. We manipulated competition through density gradients of each plant species, and we reduced ambient foliar diseases with fungicide and autoclaving. We then modeled long-term population dynamics with field-estimated parameters. In the field, disease did not reduce invader abundance or per capita effects. The invader amplified disease on itself and the competitor, and disease reduced invader and competitor fitness components (e.g., germination). The dynamical model predicted that disease impacts on the competitor are greater than on the invader, such that disease will reduce invader abundance by 18%, and competitor abundance by 88%, over time. Our study suggests that enemies acquired by invaders will not necessarily mitigate invader impacts if the invader amplifies the enemy and the enemy attacks and suppresses competitor species.

Amy E. Kendig
Amy E. Kendig
Postdoctoral Researcher

ecologist and data scientist specializing in human impacts in plant communities