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Intensity of grass invasion negatively correlated with population density and age structure of an endangered dune plant across its range

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Abstract

Invasive species are a global threat to ecosystem biodiversity and function; non-native grass invasion has been particularly problematic in sparsely vegetated ecosystems such as open dunes. Native plant population responses to invasion, however, are infrequently translated to landscape scales, limiting the effectiveness of these data for addressing conservation issues. We quantified population density, total population size, and age class distribution of the federally-endangered plant species Antioch Dunes evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides subsp. howellii), at sites along a non-native grass invasion gradient in California, USA. We then scaled relationships between invasion and plant density across the species’ range using spatial models and remote sensing data. Adult and juvenile O. deltoides subsp. howellii densities were more than 10 times higher in non-invaded areas (grids with 10% total plant cover) when compared to highly-invaded areas (grids with 80% total plant cover). The ratio of O. deltoides subsp. howellii juveniles to adults decreased to less than 1 at 54% total cover, highlighting sensitivity of the regeneration niche to invasion. Spatial models mapped hotspots of O. deltoides subsp. howellii abundance and population structure across the landscape at sub-meter scales. Scaling the impacts of increasing invasion on plant species of conservation concern holds promise when coupled with remote sensing approaches, especially in naturally low-cover ecosystems where readily available metrics (e.g., Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) can be used to quantify invasion. These spatial models inform how future invasive species management may influence population size and spatial distribution of species of conservation concern.

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Jones, S. F., Kennedy, A., Freeman, C. M., & Thorne, K. M. (2021). Intensity of grass invasion negatively correlated with population density and age structure of an endangered dune plant across its range. Biological Invasions, 23(8), 2451–2471. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-021-02516-5

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