Can a breakdown in competition-colonization tradeoffs help explain the success of exotic species in the California flora?

Marco A. Molina-Montenegro, Elsa E. Cleland, Sean M. Watts, Bernardo R. Broitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Determining combinations of functional traits that allow a species to colonize new habitats has been central in the development of invasion ecology. Species able to establish in new communities harbor abilities or traits that allow them to use resources or tolerate stress in ways that native species cannot. Tradeoffs among species functional traits along the competition-colonization (CC) continuum, where competitive ability is a decreasing function of dispersal capacity, may allow invasive species to establish themselves in new habitats. The California flora offers a well-characterized model system to examine whether native and exotic species differ in the distribution of functional traits and to examine whether a breakdown of the CC tradeoff is present. We used a random subset of 1000 plants and examined seed traits and life form characteristics along with their seed size and adult height using the Jepson Manual of the plants of California. To test the hypothesis that active dispersal strategies aid in the success of exotic species, we classified species into four seed types according to the presence/absence of mechanisms associated with efficient dispersal. In addition, for each species we compiled data on seed size and adult plant height. We conducted all comparisons between native and exotic species within the four most speciose families to control for potential taxonomic non-independence. Exotic species had smaller seed size but greater plant height than natives of the same families. On the other hand, exotic species also displayed significantly greater proportions of functional traits that enhanced dispersal ability. Additionally, certain sets of functional traits were significantly associated with exotic species, such as annual life histories with small seeds and high dispersal capacity. In the random subset of the California flora examined, exotics of the most speciose plant families show functional trait combinations that appear to violate the tradeoff structures observed in their California counterparts. Our results suggest that taxonomically controlled comparisons of the CC tradeoff structure between natives and exotic species may shed light of the capacity of those exotic species invasive ability to colonize new habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-395
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


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