Community phylogenetic diversity and abiotic site characteristics influence abundance of the invasive plant Rhamnus cathartica L.

Timothy J S Whitfeld, Alexandra G. Lodge, Alexander M. Roth, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Aims Theory predicts that the success of introduced species is related to the diversity of native species through trait-based processes. Abiotic site characteristics may also affect a site's susceptibility to invasion. We quantified resident plant species richness, phylogenetic diversity and several abiotic site characteristics for 24 oak forests in Minnesota, USA, to assess their impact on the abundance of a widespread, introduced terrestrial plant species, common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.). Specifically, we asked (1) whether resident species richness and phylogenetic diversity affected the abundance of R. cathartica and (2) what site characteristics explained the overall abundance of R. cathartica. Methods Our survey included 24 oak-dominated stands in Minnesota's deciduous forests. In each stand, we identified all species in 16 plots. We also measured a series of environmental site characteristics, including canopy openness (a proxy for light availability), percent bare soil, soil pH, percent sand, an index of propagule availability, duff layer thickness (a proxy for earthworm activity), an index of insolation and slope. For all species present in at least one site, we estimated a community phylogeny. We combined all site-level characteristics, including phylogenetic diversity of the resident plant species, in a multiple regression model to examine site level drivers of community invasibility. Important Findings Results indicate that sites with higher overall plant phylogenetic diversity harbor less R. cathartica, even though native species richness was not significantly related to R. cathartica abundance. Regression analyses indicated that, in addition to resident species phylogenetic diversity, the most important predictors of R. cathartica abundance were canopy openness and the amount of bare soil, both positively related to the abundance of the invader. By combining the effects of abiotic site characteristics and resident species phylogenetic diversity in a model that predicted the abundance of R. cathartica, we were able to simultaneously account for a wide range of factors that might influence invasibility. Overall, our results suggest that management strategies aimed at reducing disturbances that lead to increased bare soil and light levels may be more successful if they also maximize phylogenetic diversity of the resident plant community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-209
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Invasibility
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • R. cathartica L.
  • Site characteristics


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