Seed and establishment limitation contribute to long-term native forb declines in California grasslands

Angela J. Brandt, Eric W. Seabloom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The effects of exotic species invasions on biodiversity vary with spatial scale, and documentation of local-scale changes in biodiversity following invasion is generally lacking. Coupling long-term observations of local community dynamics with experiments to determine the role played by exotic species in recruitment limitation of native species would inform both our understanding of exotic impacts on natives at local scales and regional-scale management efforts to promote native persistence. We used field experimentation to quantify propagule and establishment limitation in a suite of native annual forbs in a California reserve, and compared these findings to species abundance trends within the same sites over the past 48 years. Observations at 11 paired sites (inside and outside the reserve) indicated that exotic annual plants have continued to increase in abundance over the past 48 years. This trend suggests the system has not reached equilibrium .250 years after exotic species began to spread, and 70 years after livestock grazing ceased within the reserve. Long-term monitoring observations also indicated that six native annual forb species went extinct from more local populations than were colonized. To determine the potential role of exotic species in these native plant declines, we added seed of these species into plots adjacent to monitoring sites where plant litter and live grass competition were removed. Experimental results suggest both propagule and establishment limitation have contributed to local declines observed for these native forbs. Recruitment was highest at sites that had current or historical occurrences of the seeded species, and in plots where litter was removed. Grazing history (i.e., location within or outside the reserve) interacted with exotic competition removal, such that removal of live grass competition increased recruitment in more recently grazed sites. Abundance of forbs was positively related to recruitment, while abundance of exotic forbs was negatively related. Thus, exotic competition is likely only one factor contributing to local declines of native species in invaded ecosystems, with a combination of propagule limitation, site quality, and land use history also playing important and interactive roles in native plant recruitment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1451-1462
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • California
  • Community assembly
  • Competition
  • Exotic species
  • Invasion
  • Livestock grazing
  • Propagule limitation
  • Recruitment limitation
  • USA grasslands


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