Ecologists have identified a growing number of functional traits that promote invasion. However, whether trait differences between exotic and native species promote invasion success by enhancing niche differences or giving invaders competitive advantages is poorly understood. We explored the mechanisms by which phenology determines invasion success in a California annual plant community by quantifying how the seasonal timing of growth relates to niche differences that stabilize coexistence, and the competitive ability differences that drive dominance and exclusion. We parameterized models of community dynamics from experimentally assembled annual communities in which exotic plants displayed earlier, coincident, or later phenology than native residents. Using recent theoretical advances from the coexistence literature, we found that differences in phenology promote stabilizing niche differences between exotic and native species. However, phenology was more strongly related to competitive ability differences, allowing later invaders to outcompete earlier native competitors and native residents to outcompete earlier invaders in field experiments. Few of these insights could be inferred by comparing the competitive outcomes across invaders, highlighting the need to quantify niche and competitive ability differences when disentangling how species differences drive invasion success.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Annual plants
- Biological invasions
- Coexistence theory
- Fitness differences
- Species traits