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Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants: A meta-analysis of their effects on species, communities and ecosystems


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Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 702–708 Biological invasions cause ecological and economic impacts across the globe. However, it is unclear whether there are strong patterns in terms of their major effects, how the vulnerability of different ecosystems varies and which ecosystem services are at greatest risk. We present a global meta-analysis of 199 articles reporting 1041 field studies that in total describe the impacts of 135 alien plant taxa on resident species, communities and ecosystems. Across studies, alien plants had a significant effect in 11 of 24 different types of impact assessed. The magnitude and direction of the impact varied both within and between different types of impact. On average, abundance and diversity of the resident species decreased in invaded sites, whereas primary production and several ecosystem processes were enhanced. While alien N-fixing species had greater impacts on N-cycling variables, they did not consistently affect other impact types. The magnitude of the impacts was not significantly different between island and mainland ecosystems. Overall, alien species impacts are heterogeneous and not unidirectional even within particular impact types. Our analysis also reveals that by the time changes in nutrient cycling are detected, major impacts on plant species and communities are likely to have already occurred.
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SYNTHESIS Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants: a meta-analysis of
their effects on species, communities and ecosystems
Montserrat Vila
* Jose
´L. Espinar,
Martin Hejda,
Philip E. Hulme,
ˇch Jaros
John L. Maron,
Jan Pergl,
Urs Schaffner,
and Petr Pys
Biological invasions cause ecological and economic impacts across the globe. However, it is unclear whether
there are strong patterns in terms of their major effects, how the vulnerability of different ecosystems varies
and which ecosystem services are at greatest risk. We present a global meta-analysis of 199 articles reporting
1041 field studies that in total describe the impacts of 135 alien plant taxa on resident species, communities and
ecosystems. Across studies, alien plants had a significant effect in 11 of 24 different types of impact assessed.
The magnitude and direction of the impact varied both within and between different types of impact.
On average, abundance and diversity of the resident species decreased in invaded sites, whereas primary
production and several ecosystem processes were enhanced. While alien N-fixing species had greater impacts
on N-cycling variables, they did not consistently affect other impact types. The magnitude of the impacts was
not significantly different between island and mainland ecosystems. Overall, alien species impacts are
heterogeneous and not unidirectional even within particular impact types. Our analysis also reveals that by the
time changes in nutrient cycling are detected, major impacts on plant species and communities are likely to have
already occurred.
Biological invasions, bottom-up effects, diversity, ecological complexity, ecosystem functioning, effect size,
exotic species, island, N-fixing, weeds.
Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 702–708
Given the increasing pace of global change, it is becoming more
important than ever to understand how human activities are altering
biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (Tylianakis et al. 2008). A key
driver of change is the invasion of ecosystems by alien species, many
of which attain sufficiently high abundance to influence biodiversity.
In contrast to the extensive literature and syntheses on the processes
leading to biological invasions (Jeschke & Strayer 2005; LePrieur et al.
2008; Van Kleunen et al. 2010a,b), a robust framework to understand
impacts has yet to be developed (Parker et al. 1999). For example,
various invasive plants are known to decrease local plant species
diversity (Vila` et al. 2006; Gaertner et al. 2009; Hejda et al. 2009;
Powell et al. 2011), increase ecosystem productivity and alter the rate
of nutrient cycling (Liao et al. 2008; Ehrenfeld 2010), and hence
impact upon ecosystem services and human well-being (Pejchar &
Mooney 2009). However, while there are a growing number of studies
reporting impacts of alien plants, we still lack broad quantitative
syntheses of how impacts vary depending on the attributes of
recipient ecosystems and of the invaders themselves (Levine et al.
2003). This absence of a broad-scale assessment limits our ability to
generalize and predict when and where impacts might be most
To address this key issue in invasion biology, we undertake a
quantitative synthesis on the effects of alien plant species on a wide
range of ecological response variables using a meta-analytical
approach (Rosenberg et al. 2000). Meta-analysis provides an oppor-
tunity to explore heterogeneity among studies and identify large-scale
patterns across species and geographic regions (Steward 2010). Our
goal was to determine how the magnitude and direction of alien
species impacts vary across levels of ecological complexity. An alien
plant species that reaches a high abundance and dominates an
ecosystem will potentially influence the performance of individual
resident species and their population dynamics (Vila` & Weiner 2004),
and as a consequence, it will have both direct and indirect effects on
plant community structure and ecosystem functioning (Levine et al.
2003). In this study, we assess how impacts on species compare with
those on community properties and ecosystem processes.
´n Biolo
´gica de Don
˜ana (EBD-CSIC), Avda. Ame
´rico Vespucio s n, Isla de
la Cartuja, E-41092 Sevilla, Spain
Institute of Botany, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, CZ-252 43
˚honice, Czech Republic
The Bio-Protection Research Centre, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury,
New Zealand
Department of Ecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Vinic
CZ-128 01 Prague, Czech Republic
Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812,
Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, CH-3012 Bern,
CABI Europe-Switzerland, 2800 Dele
´mont, Switzerland
*Correspondence: E-mail:
Nomenclature as in Weber (2003).
Ecology Letters, (2011) 14: 702–708 doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01628.x
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
We focus on two aspects that have for long been pivotal in the
biological invasion literature. First, do N-fixing alien species exert
greater ecological impacts than non-N-fixing species? Although there
has been considerable research examining how species traits might
influence plant invasiveness (Daehler 2003; Pys
ˇek & Richardson 2007;
Van Kleunen et al. 2010a,b), the effect of particular plant traits on the
type of impact is unclear with the exception of studies reporting
N-fixing alien species having a significant impact on N-cycling
(Vitousek 1990; Ehrenfeld 2003, 2010; Liao et al. 2008). As strong
impacts on nutrient cycling subsequently affect plant performance
(e.g. plant resource allocation, plant competitive ability, plant
resistance to herbivory, etc.) and hence community structure, we
assumed N-fixing plants to have greater community impacts than
non-N-fixing species.
Second, we assess whether island ecosystems are more vulnerable to
impacts than mainland ecosystems. Islands often support large
regional pools of alien species (Lonsdale 1999; Pys
ˇek et al. 2010)
and are often considered to be highly impacted by invaders (but see
Diez et al. 2009). Certainly, introduced predators can trigger strong
trophic cascades on islands and these indirect effects can importantly
influence primary production and plant community structure (Croll
et al. 2005). However, doubts have been expressed about the relative
vulnerability of island ecosystem to the impacts of alien plants (Sax &
Gaines 2008) but as yet no formal assessment of the vulnerability of
island ecosystems to impacts has been undertaken.
Literature search
We used several data sources to gather quantitative evidence from the
literature on the ecological impacts of alien plants upon: (1) individual
plant and animal species performance, (2) characteristics of the
recipient community and (3) ecosystem processes (see Table 1 for
definitions and examples of these measures). We searched for relevant
articles on the ISI Web of Knowledge (
database on 11 March 2009 with no restriction on publication year,
using the following search term combinations: (plant invader OR
exotic plant OR alien plant OR plant invasion*) AND (impact* OR
effect*) AND (community structure* OR diversity* OR ecosystem
process* OR competition*). As the next step, we also screened the
reference lists from all retrieved articles for other relevant publica-
tions. As some of those articles were reviews (e.g. Levine et al. 2003)
that were also based on the Ôgrey literatureÕ, we achieved a reasonably
good coverage of the literature on impacts of alien plants, not
restricted to that indexed in Web of Science.
We examined each article to assess their potential for meeting the
selection criteria for inclusion in the review. The main selection
criterion required studies to compare quantitatively any ecological
pattern or process in both invaded and uninvaded plots in natural or
semi-natural ecosystems. We did not include studies conducted in
agricultural systems as this topic has been reviewed elsewhere (Vila`
et al. 2004). This resulted in an initial set of 515 articles from which the
following criteria for data inclusion were adopted:
(1) Replicated field studies that were either observational (i.e.
comparing non-manipulated invaded and uninvaded sites) or
experimental (i.e. removal or addition of target plants) were
included where they explicitly mentioned the identity of the alien
plant taxon causing impact. We only selected studies focusing on
the impact of a single alien species rather than that of
multispecies alien assemblages. We also excluded all studies
addressing the effects of expanding or colonizing native species
such as Ôshrub encroachmentÕ(the review of Liao et al. 2008
included many studies on native species).
(2) Where the same article examined different alien species, several
ecosystems and or more than one response variable, we
considered each of these separately as they represented different
examples of ecological impacts. A possible criticism is that using
all measures represents a form of pseudo-replication in the meta-
analysis. However, the same approach has previously used in
meta-analysis (Liao et al. 2008; Rey-Benayas et al. 2009). The
influence of pseudo-replication was tested with a randomly
selected single effect size per article for impact types with large
sample sizes (see next section).
(3) When a response variable was measured at different times (e.g.
sampling at different seasons or years), we made an informed
decision on whether to take the mean value across times or
consider each measure as independent. In some instances, we
only used the final measurement (see Criterion 5).
Table 1 Summary of the ecological impacts due to alien plant species classified by
levels of ecological complexity, impact types and response variables examined in the
Level Impact type Variables
Plant species Fitness Seed set, germination rate, seedling
establishment, survival, mortality ())
Growth Increase in size of whole plants or
plant parts
Production Biomass, NPP
Abundance Plant number, density, cover
Diversity Alpha diversity, richness, evenness
Animal species Fitness Egg production, adult emergence,
survival, mortality ())
Growth Increase in size of whole animals
at any life stage
Production Biomass
Abundance Density, visits, counts
Diversity Alpha diversity, richness
Behaviour Grazing, predation, mobility,
Ecosystems Soil OM Soil organic matter
C pools Soil, litter, plant C
N pools Soil, litter, plant N
N available NO
and or NH
in soil
N mineralization N mineralization rate
N nitrification N nitrification rate
P pools Soil, litter, plant P
CN Soil, litter, plant C N
Microbial activity Activity of soil bacteria, fungi
or enzymes
pH pH
Litter decomposition rate
Salinity Soil Na, electrical conductivity
Soil moisture Soil water content
As low mortality indicates high survival, the sign of the effect sizes of the former
variable was changed ()).
*Although they refer mostly to animals, they also include impacts on micro-
organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi and protozoa).
Review and Synthesis Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants 703
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
(4) There were also studies conducted on the same species in
similar ecosystems but at different locations. We made an
informed decision whether to consider studies as independent if
locations were from clearly distinct regions (e.g. different
islands, different countries) and considered the effects across
locations if they represented similar ecosystems under the
influence of the same environmental conditions. If the study
manipulated other ecological factors (e.g. N-addition, distur-
bance levels) only results from non-manipulated plots were
(5) When the study investigated the effects of different degrees of
invasion (e.g. heavily vs. less invaded sites) and different
residence times (i.e. old vs. recent invasions) we only considered
the putative largest contrast. That is, we examined differences
between the least invaded sites (i.e. often uninvaded) and the
most invaded sites, or differences between uninvaded sites and
sites with the longest time since invasion.
Data extraction
A total of 199 articles representing 1041 cases of invasion across 135
taxa (all at the species level except four hybrids and one subspecies)
met our criteria (Appendix S1). In the vast majority of studies,
invaded sites had high alien abundance and although the measures of
plant abundance were not always given, the study sites were usually
described as having high or > 50% cover. Furthermore, the alien
species considered were in many cases explicitly described as invasive
in the study region. Thus, our results summarize the impact of
invasive alien plant species.
Among the alien plant species investigated, perennial herbs (344
cases) and trees (202 cases) were more often represented than other
life-forms and there were only 18 N-fixing species (156 cases). Almost
half of the studies (478) have been conducted in temperate regions
and one-third (340) in grasslands. Twenty-four per cent of studies
(245) were conducted on islands.
In most cases, field assessments of impact were based on
comparisons of several ecological variables in long-standing invaded
vs. uninvaded sites nearby. Only 14% of the studies involved
manipulative experiments (i.e. removal or addition of species). The
impact variables measured most frequently concerned N pools (103
cases), plant species diversity (136), animal abundance (94) and plant
biomass and production (90). Individual response variables were
related to species performance, community structure and ecosystem
processes in invaded and uninvaded plots. These levels of ecological
complexity were further classified into 24 types of impact (Table 1).
Many impact types contain different variables and sometimes the
same variable has been estimated by using different methods.
However, using different variables to estimate effect sizes within a
category is intrinsic to meta-analysis (e.g. Cardinale et al. 2006; Winfree
et al. 2009; Van Kleunen et al. 2010b). Although the inclusion of
heterogeneous data has prompted some criticism of meta-analytical
methods, they provide the opportunity to quantitatively identify large-
scale patterns (Steward 2010) as the effect size is a unit-free metric
that accounts for sample size bias (see below).
We extracted mean, statistical variation (usually SE or SD) and
sample size values for invaded and uninvaded plots for each response
variable. These data were extracted directly from tables or from graphs
using the
software (B. Thumers; http://www.datat- or, in some cases, also by measuring mean and statistical
variation ÔmanuallyÕusing a ruler. For other studies, we obtained data
directly from the corresponding authors.
Response ratios
For each pair of invaded (i) and uninvaded (ni) sites per case study, we
calculated HedgesÕdas a measure of effect size. HedgesÕdis an
estimate of the standardized mean difference that is not biased by
small sample sizes (Rosenberg et al. 2000). From each pair of mean
values (X) the individual effect size dwas calculated as:
where Sis the pooled standard deviation and Ja weighting factor
based on the number of replicates (N) per treatment. Jwas calculated
4Nni þNi2ðÞ1:
The variance of HedgesÕd,Vd was calculated as:
Vd ¼Nni þNi
Nni Niþd2
2ðNni þNiÞ:
HedgesÕdis a unit-free index which ranges from )¥to +¥and
estimates the size of the impact and its direction. As in classical
statistical analysis, the highest effect sizes are from those studies
showing large differences between invaded and uninvaded plots when
the plots have low variability. Zero dvalues signify no difference in the
variable measured between invaded and uninvaded plots; positive and
negative dvalues imply a general trend following invasion for an
increase and decrease, respectively. HedgesÕdcalculations and
statistical analysis were conducted with the MetaWin v2.1 Software
(Rosenberg et al. 2000).
For each impact type, we calculated the weighted mean effect size
) across the sample of studies with information on the relevant
response variable. To test whether d
differed significantly from zero
(i.e. no change with invasion), we assessed whether the bias-corrected
95% bootstrap-confidence interval (CI) of d
did not overlap zero
based on 999 iterations (Rosenberg et al. 2000). We also tested
whether effects sizes across studies were homogeneous, using the
statistic based on a chi-squared test (Q
hereafter). A significant
indicates that the variance among effect sizes is greater than that
expected by sampling error alone (i.e. effect sizes are not equal across
studies). The mean percentage of change in a response variable was
estimated as (e
)1) ·100 where R
is the weighted mean response
ratio (R) across studies (Rosenberg et al. 2000). The natural logarithm
of Ris calculated as:
ln R¼ln Xi
For categorical comparisons (e.g. N-fixing vs. non-N-fixing), we
examined P
values associated to Q
statistic (Q
which describe the variation in effect sizes that can be ascribed to
differences between categories. We also tested whether the remaining
within-group heterogeneity (Q
) was significant using a chi-squared
test. Data were analysed using random-effects models which are
704 M. Vila
`et al. Review and Synthesis
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
preferable in ecological data synthesis because their assumptions are
more likely to be satisfied (Rosenberg et al. 2000).
Many studies reported data on the effect of the same alien species
on different response variables or in different ecosystems. To avoid
pseudoreplication, we also ran the analyses with a randomly selected
single effect size per article, for three response variables with the
largest sample sizes: plant diversity, animal abundance and N pools.
The mean effect sizes for each of these types of impact were similar to
those obtained for all studies and the bias-corrected 95% bootstrap-
confidence interval (CI) overlapped between the whole dataset and the
reduced dataset (Appendix S2). As a consequence, we felt confident
to include all the data in our analyses. The inclusion of all case studies
enabled us to screen for differences in impact within levels of
ecological complexity in a manner similar to the amalgamated meta-
analysis performed by Rey-Benayas et al. (2009) or Liao et al. (2008).
In studies on ecological impact, there might be a bias against
publishing negative results and studies with larger sample sizes might
have more power to detect significant impacts. We examined
standardized effect sizes of the raw data to test these potential biases
and found that they were slightly negatively (Spearman r=)0.099)
but significantly (P= 0.001) associated with sample size. This might
suggest that studies with small sample sizes are slightly more likely to
be published when they found bigger differences between invaded and
uninvaded sites (Rosenberg et al. 2000). However, a plot of the effect
sizes against the sample size revealed a funnel-shaped distribution of
the data points (Appendix S3), as would be expected in the absence of
a sampling bias (Palmer 1999).
Following Rosenthal (1979), we estimated the fail-safe number, that
is, the number of studies that would have to be added to change the
results of the meta-analysis from significant to non-significant, to be
37 689. As this value is larger than 5N+ 10 = 5215 where
N= number of case studies in our dataset, we are confident that
the observed results can be treated as a reliable estimate of the true
effect (Rosenberg 2005). Moreover, a plot of the standardized effect
sizes against the normal quantiles revealed a straight line (Appen-
dix S3) indicating that the effect sizes are normally distributed (Wang
& Bushman 1998). Overall, this indicates that there was only a mild
publication bias unlikely to change the overall meaning of the results.
Averaged across all studies, there was considerable variability in the
effect sizes (Q
= 2257.36, d.f. = 1039, P< 0.0001) ranging over 5
orders of magnitude. Mean effect sizes differed significantly among
the impact types examined (Q
= 316.78, d.f. = 23, P= 0.001) not
only in magnitude but also in direction (Figs 1 and 2; Appendix S4).
The mean effect size within impact types was also heterogeneous
= 1940.57, d.f. = 1016, P< 0.0001; see Appendix S4 for Q
each impact type). This result indicates that even for particular impact
types the magnitude and direction of the effect size varied significantly
across studies. For 11 of the 24 impact types examined, the CI of the
mean effect size overlapped zero (Figs 1 and 2). Therefore, for these
impact types, we could not support the hypothesis that the variables
examined changed uniformly with invasion, due to heterogeneity in
the direction of effects found for different studies (Appendix S4).
Alien plants significantly reduced fitness and growth of resident
plant species by 41.7 and 22.1%, respectively, and changed plant
community structure by decreasing speciesÕabundance (43.5%) and
diversity (50.7%). However, total community production increased by
56.8% following invasion (Fig. 1a). Alien plants also significantly
decreased animal speciesÕfitness by 16.5% and abundance by 17.3%
(Fig. 1b). For the other variables related to animal species perfor-
mance and animal community structure the CI of the mean effect size
overlapped zero. Thus, although the trend was towards a decrease in
the other variables with invasion, the direction of effect sizes were not
uniform across studies.
With regard to ecosystem impacts, alien plants enhanced microbial
activity by 32.3%, available N (53.7%), N, P and C pools (22.1, 19.7
and 11.6%, respectively), and decreased pH (3%), but for the impacts
on the other variables, the CI of the mean effect size overlapped zero
(Fig. 2; Appendix S4). For instance, on average, invasion decreased
litter decomposition by 15.6% but there was a significant heteroge-
neity among studies (Q
= 24.14, d.f. = 12, P= 0.02) with almost as
–1.5 –1 –0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2
–1.5 –1 –0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2–2
Effect size
Effect size
Plant fitness (25, 0, 0)
Plant diversity (113, 2, 21)
Plant abundance (40, 0, 3)
Plant growth (22, 0, 10)
Plant production (32, 0, 58)
Animal fitness (14, 0, 4)
Animal growth (8, 0, 3)
Animal abundance (61, 1, 32)
Animal production (15, 0, 7)
Animal diversity (29, 1, 15)
Animal behaviour (11, 1, 10)
Figure 1 Mean effect size (HedgesÕd) of differences between alien plant species
impacts to (a) plant species and communities and (b) animal species and
communities. The bars around the means denote bias-corrected 95%-bootstrap
confidence intervals. A mean effect size is significantly different from zero when its
95% confidence interval do not bracket zero. Positive mean effect sizes indicate
that the invaded plots had on average greater values for variables describing a
particular impact type. The sample sizes with HedgesÕd< 0, HedgesÕd= 0 and
HedgesÕd> 0 are given next to the bars.
2–1 0 1 234 5
C/N (18, 0, 21)
N nitrification (3, 0, 8)
N pools (36, 2, 65)
P pools (17, 2, 31)
N available (15, 0, 32)
Microbial activity (5, 0, 9)
N mineralization (10, 1, 15)
Soil OM (10, 1, 15)
Salinity (10, 0, 9)
C pools (26, 2, 35)
Litter decomposition (7, 0, 6)
pH (55, 2, 5)
Soil moisture (14, 1, 15)
Figure 2 Mean effect size (HedgesÕd) of differences between ecosystem impacts
with indication of significant differences between N-fixing (closed triangles) and
non-N-fixing (open triangles) alien plant species. Otherwise as in Figure 1.
Review and Synthesis Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants 705
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
many studies showing increases as decreases in litter decomposition
due to invasion (Fig. 2).
Compared with non-N-fixing species, the alien N-fixing species
increased the impact on N pools and N nitrification significantly
= 1.94 vs. d
= 0.19; d
= 1.83 vs. d
= 0.02, respectively).
By contrast, while N-fixing species decreased C N, non-N-fixing
species increased the value of this variable (d
=)0.65 vs. d
= 0.10).
The impact of N-fixing alien plants was not significantly different
from that of non-N-fixing species for any of the other impact type
addressed in this study (Table 2).
There were no significant differences in the mean effect sizes
between studies conducted on islands and on the mainland (Table 2).
Our analysis provides rigorous evidence that alien plant species exert
significant impacts on many ecological variables. However, the
magnitude and direction of these impacts vary among different levels
of ecological complexity. In absolute terms, impacts on plant species
and communities were substantial whereas those on nutrient cycling
were relatively minor. This indicates that by the time impacts on
nutrient cycling are detected, plant species and communities are likely
to have already been affected by invasion. Nevertheless, the causal
links between plant community and ecosystem impacts remain largely
unexplored (Levine et al. 2003). There are only a few experiments that
teased apart the direct impacts on nutrient cycling from the indirect
impacts via changes in community structure (but see Belnap et al.
2005; Allison et al. 2006 for exceptions).
Our analysis also shows that alien plants have bottom-up impacts
on higher trophic levels, although on average these effects are of lower
magnitude than those within the same trophic level. The effect of alien
plants on taxa at higher trophic levels might depend on the degree of
their dependence on alien plants as a food resource (de Groot et al.
2007; Gerber et al. 2008) but indirect effects may occur when alien
plants increase habitat heterogeneity (Pearson 2009). Studies which
have simultaneously investigated the impacts of alien plants on
primary producers and on other trophic levels are scarce (Valtonen
et al. 2006; de Groot et al. 2007; Gerber et al. 2008) and more are
needed to understand how frequent feedback impacts occur across
trophic levels.
One of the most striking findings of our study is that alien plant
species reduced local plant species diversity and increased plant
production of the invaded community. This is contrary to what
diversity-ecosystem functioning experiments would predict and
supports the importance of sampling effects in the patterns observed
in such studies (Cardinale et al. 2006). Experimental work has shown
that a strong invader can essentially reverse the positive diversity–
productivity relationship in a manner consistent to what we have
found (Zavaleta & Hulvey 2004; Maron & Marler 2008). Our analysis
suggests that alien plant invasions may result in a sampling effect
where ecosystem production is driven by the addition of a single
highly productive species, even if overall species diversity declines.
A prediction which our analysis did not support is generally greater
impact of alien N-fixing species compared with alien non-N-fixing
species. Seminal work on the impact of Myrica faya, an N-fixing
introduced tree in Hawaii, on early stages of primary succession
(Vitousek et al. 1987) motivated the idea that alien N-fixing species
can exert large impacts on recipient ecosystems. Current evidence
suggests that compared with non-N-fixing species, N-fixing alien
species more strongly affect N and C cycling (Liao et al. 2008), but our
results indicate that no such differences are found for impacts on
other ecosystem processes or on community structure.
Another unexpected result is that we did not find greater impacts on
islands than on mainland ecosystems. The generally accepted
assumption that islands are more threatened by plant invaders than
the mainland is largely drawn form the fact that their floras are
proportionally more dominated by alien species and ecosystems are
more disturbed (DÕAntonio & Dudley 1994). Indeed, compared with
corresponding mainland ecosystems, islands often harbour more alien
species (Lonsdale 1999) and individual alien plants can often be more
widespread (Gimeno et al. 2006). This might suggest greater impacts
but our results indicate that the magnitude of the impact is not
significantly greater than in mainland ecosystems and imply that
invasion success does not necessarily translate into greater impacts at a
local scale (Parker et al. 1999).
Our results summarize the impacts of strongly dominating alien
plant species prone to cause changes in species, communities or
ecosystems (Vila` et al. 2010). The data available did not allow us to
determine how impacts might increase as a function of alien plant
abundances. This seems to be a major gap in our understanding of
biological invasion regarding whether the relationship between alien
plant abundance and impact is saturating, sigmoid or linear (Ehrenfeld
Table 2 Heterogeneity between (Q
) the impact of N-fixing and non-N-fixing alien
plant species and for studies conducted in islands and in mainland ecosystems with
indication of sample sizes and P-values (significant results are in bold)
Level Impact type
N-fixing Insularity
Plant species Fitness 1.31 8, 18 0.29 0.77 2, 23 0.46
Growth 1.08 8, 46 0.37
Production 7.25 4, 86 0.06 4.74 13, 77 0.14
Abundance 1.92 11, 42 0.17 0.66 4, 49 0.45
Diversity 3.60 15, 121 0.09 1.03 25, 111 0.34
Animal species Fitness – – – –
Growth – – – –
Production 0.00 4, 18 1 0.45 3, 19 0.46
Abundance 4.45 11, 83 0.06 0.00 34, 60 0.97
Diversity 0.12 3, 42 0.74 1.19 12, 33 0.30
Behaviour – – – –
Ecosystems Soil OM 1.31 8, 18 0.29 0.34 3, 23 0.60
C pools 2.62 7, 56 0.14 0.46 3, 19 0.46
N pools 28.21 25, 78 0.001 0.04 34, 69 0.87
N available 1.96 13, 34 0.22 0.17 10, 37 0.71
N mineralization 0.19 7, 18 0.71 0.08 4, 21 0.82
N nitrification 8.35 3, 8 0.01 0.96 2, 9 0.35
P pools 4.33 13, 37 0.06 4.25 12, 38 0.10
CN 3.99 7, 32 0.05 0.73 20, 19 0.42
0.86 3, 11 0.39
pH 0.14 11, 51 0.77 0.00 25, 37 0.96
0.01 2, 11 0.97 2.30 3, 10 0.27
Salinity 0.11 5, 14 0.75 0.17 4, 15 0.69
Soil moisture 0.23 3, 17 0.66 0.73 3, 17 0.41
Significance values of Q
are based on randomization tests. Empty cells denote the
analysis could not be conducted due to the lack of replicates.
*Although they refer mostly to animals, they also include impacts on micro-
organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi and protozoa).
706 M. Vila
`et al. Review and Synthesis
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
2010). It is of interest to know whether there are thresholds or
ÔbreakpointsÕwhere impacts of alien plants may not scale linearly with
their abundances, and how this relationship may vary among invading
species (Andreu et al. 2009) and the spatial scale of study (Powell et al.
2011). The experimental studies examining this relationship found it
to either scale linearly (Maron & Marler 2008) or not at all (Meffin
et al. 2010) with invader abundance. Thus, additional experiments are
needed before we can make generalizations about the nature of this
relationship (Parker et al. 1999; Levine et al. 2003). This topic remains
at the core of whether the impact of alien species is related to their
ecological success.
In conclusion, our analyses have highlighted that alien plants pose
significant impacts at the species, community and ecosystem level.
Current understanding of invasive plant impacts is restricted to
relatively few dominant alien species (Pys
ˇek et al. 2008). However,
possibly because our database had different representation of alien
plant life forms and ecosystems, the magnitude of the impacts was
very variable and even for a given impact type, the direction of the
ecological change was context-dependent. Our quantitative approach
to value impacts could be further developed as the basis for scoring
alien species and recipient ecosystems for risk assessment of invasions
(Nentwig et al. 2009). We hope this article helps to re-invigorate this
area of research by highlighting the association among impacts at
several levels of ecological complexity and also the links between
invasion success and invasion impacts.
Discussions with J.M. Levine, C.M. DÕAntonio, J.S. Dukes, K. Grigulis
and S. Lavorel at a European Science Foundation Workshop held in
Barcelona in 2001 inspired portions of this work. We thank I. Parker
and two anonymous referees for comments on an early draft of this
article. Funding was provided by PRATIQUE (KBBE-212459) and
STEP (244090-STEP-CP-FP) of the EU 7FP; the Spanish Ministerio
de Ciencia e Innovacio´n project RIXFUTUR (CGL2009-7515) and
MONTES (CSD2008-00040); the Junta de Andalucı
´a RNM-4031; the
Czech Science Foundation (206 09 0563); the Academy of Sciences
of the Czech Republic Projects No. AV0Z60050516 and
MSM0021620828; the Ministry of Environment of the Czech
Republic project LC06073 and the Swiss National Science Foundation
(NCCR ÔPlant SurvivalÕ). P.P. acknowledges the support by Praemium
Academiae award from AS CR and J.P. from SCIEX.
MV, PP, US and PEH designed research; MV, JLE, MH, JP and YS
prepared the database; MV and VJ analysed data; and MV, PP, VJ,
JLM, US and PEH wrote the article.
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Additional Supporting Information may be found in the online
version of this article:
Appendix S1 List of studies for meta-analysis on alien plant species
impact on species, communities and ecosystems.
Appendix S2 Total heterogeneity (Q
) with indication of sample size,
effect sizes (d
) and 95% CI for three impact types of alien plant
species when considering all case studies (whole) and only one study
per article (reduced).
Appendix S3 MetaWin output for (a) normal quartile plot and (b)
funnel-plot of effect sizes (HedgesÕd) of the raw data vs. sample size.
Appendix S4 Total heterogeneity (Q
) with indication of P-values,
mean effect sizes (d
), degrees of freedom (d.f.) and 95% CI for
different impact types of alien plant species.
As a service to our authors and readers, this journal provides
supporting information supplied by the authors. Such materials are
peer-reviewed and may be re-organized for online delivery, but are not
copy-edited or typeset. Technical support issues arising from
supporting information (other than missing files) should be addressed
to the authors.
Editor, Elsa Cleland
Manuscript received 11 April 2011
First decision made 16 December 2010
Manuscript accepted 12 April 2011
708 M. Vila
`et al. Review and Synthesis
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS
... Invasive alien species (IAS) are a threat to global biodiversity, because they outcompete native species, change the physico-chemical characteristics of soils (e.g., modification of the soil microbial activity- Qu et al. 2021; allelochemical release that reduces native plant establishment- Zhang et al. 2021), alter the rate of nutrient cycling (Vilà et al. 2011) and modify ecosystem fire regimes (D'Antonio and Vitousek 1992;Gaertner et al. 2014). Plant invaders reduce the richness and abundance of native species Wohlgemuth et al. 2022) by modulating seed germination, inhibit seedling establishment and growth (Hussain et al. 2011a), modification of plant-pollinator interactions, and pose a significant impact at species, ecosystem and community levels and alter ecosystem services (Vilà et al. 2011). ...
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... Biological invasion is globally recognised as a significant threat to native biodiversity (Drake et al. 1989;Wilcove et al. 1998;Pyšek et al. 2020), as it can change the structure, composition, and functioning of native ecological systems (Hejda et al. 2009;Vilà et al. 2011;Jeschke et al. 2014). ...
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... The study of plant invasions and their ecological implications has gained significant attention in recent years, as global environmental changes continue to reshape ecosystems worldwide. Plant invasions, which refer to the establishment and rapid spread of non-native plant species in ecosystems, pose a substantial threat to biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services (Pyšek et al. 2010, Vilà et al. 2011. Understanding how environmental changes influence the success and impacts of plant invasions is crucial for developing effective management strategies and mitigating the negative consequences of such invasions. ...
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... Further, livestock grazing, which can reduce prey populations (see 14.5.1), and hay production is predicted to increase by 270% in the northwestern Great Plains by 2050 ), which will likely alter raptor distribution and abundance. Expansion of invasive plant species, like cheatgrass, also creates a monoculture not conducive to prey habitat needs and increases wildfire frequency (Vilà et al. 2011;Bachen et al. 2018), which in turn affects abundance and reproductive rates of raptors. ...
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Management of avian predators in western rangelands is uniquely challenging due to differences in managing for/against particular species, management of sensitive prey species, long-standing human/wildlife conflicts, and the unique legal protections within this ecological group. In general, many avian predator species considered rangeland specialists have been declining due to habitat loss, fragmentation, human sensitivity, and direct persecution. Conversely, avian predators that are more human-tolerant and/or are subsidized by human activities are significantly increasing across rangelands. The complicated nature of inter- and intra-species guilds, coupled with human dynamics has created a challenging scenario for both management for avian predators, as well as their prey. Human-mediated population control, both legal and illegal, continues for avian predators to reduce livestock conflict, aid sensitive prey populations, and/or because of general predator persecution. Conversion of rangeland to development for energy, cultivation, and urbanization remains the largest impediment to maintaining viable, historical assemblages of avian predators. Large-scale habitat protections, reduction of invasive plants, and reducing wildfire will continue to enhance at-risk populations of predators and their prey. Further, mediating human-induced mortality risks will also aid at-risk predator populations, such as reducing direct killing (poisoning and shooting), secondary poisoning from varmint control and lead ammunition use, electrocutions, and vehicle strikes, while reducing anthropogenic subsidies can help curtail population expansion of corvids. Additional understanding of long-term, successful predator control efforts for corvids and mitigation options for declining raptors is needed to help balance the avian predator–prey dynamic in western rangelands.
... A huge number of species have been introduced to places outside their native ranges , and the accumulation of such alien species still shows no sign of saturation . Some of those alien species are listed as invasive species because they have spread rapidly, demonstrate fast growth and high competitive ability (Flory et al. 2011;Vilà et al. 2011), and gradually start to dominate local plant communities and displace natives (Richardson et al. 2000). Many mechanisms have been put forward to explain why invasive species can invade native communities (Keane and Crawley 2002;Shea and Chesson 2002;Callaway and Ridenour 2004;Enders et al. 2020). ...
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Background and Aims Soil heterogeneity can be caused by plant-soil feedback (PSF), but little is known about how this affects plant growth and the distribution of roots. Moreover, as invasive and native plant species frequently differ in PSF and root-foraging ability, they may differ in their responses to PSF-mediated soil heterogeneity. Methods We first conditioned soils by 16 plant species (eight confamilial pairs of invasive alien and native species). Then, we grew each species in a homogeneous treatment with unconditioned soil and in three heterogeneous treatments with four patches. In the home-soil treatment, we filled two patches with unconditioned soil and two with soil conditioned by the target species. In the foreign-soil treatment, we filled two patches with unconditioned soil and two with soil conditioned by the other species in a pair. In the home-and-foreign-soil treatment, we filled two patches with home soil and two with foreign soil. Results Compared to the homogeneous unconditioned soil treatment, PSF negatively affected plant growth. In the heterogeneous treatment with control- and home-soil patches, biomass was reduced more strongly for the invasive species than for the native species. In the heterogeneous treatment with both home- and foreign-soil patches, root mass of the invasive species was greater in the foreign-soil than in the home-soil patches, whereas the reverse was true for natives. Conclusion Although invasive species suffered more from conspecific PSF, root foraging allowed them to avoid home soil. In the long term, this could help invasive species gain a competitive advantage over natives.
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Ambrosia artemisiifolia is a highly invasive weed. Identifying the characteristics and the factors influencing its establishment and population growth may help to identify high invasion risk areas and facilitate monitoring and prevention efforts. Six typical habitats: river banks, forests, road margins, farmlands, grasslands, and wastelands, were selected from the main distribution areas of A. artemisiifolia in the Yili Valley, China. Six propagule quantities of A. artemisiifolia at 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 seeds m ⁻² were seeded by aggregation, and dispersion in an area without A. artemisiifolia . Using establishment probability models and Allee effect models, we determined the minimum number of seeds and plants required for the establishment and population growth of A. artemisiifolia , respectively. We also assessed the moisture threshold requirements for establishment and survival, and the influence of native species. The influence of propagule pressure on the establishment of A. artemisiifolia was significant. The minimum number of seeds required varied across habitats, with the lowest being 60 seeds m ⁻² for road margins and the highest being 398 seeds for forests. The minimum number of plants required for population growth in each habitat was 5 and the largest number was 43 in pasture. The aggregation distribution of A. artemisiifolia resulted in a higher establishment and survival rate. The minimum soil volumetric water content required for establishment was significantly higher than that required for survival. The presence of native dominant species significantly reduced the establishment and survival rate of A. artemisiifolia . A. artemisiifolia has significant habitat selectivity and is more likely to establish successfully in a habitat with aggregated seeding with sufficient water and few native species. Establishment requires many seeds but is less affected by the Allee effect after successful establishment, and only a few plants are needed to ensure reproductive success and population growth in the following year. Monitoring should be increased in high invasion risk habitats.
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Introduction Considerable evidence indicates that some trees are more vulnerable than others during bamboo ( Phyllostachys edulis ) expansion, which can affect plant community structure and alter the environment, but there has been insufficient research on the growth status of surviving individuals in colonized forests. Methods In this study, we compared the annual growth increment, growth rate, and onset, cessation, and duration of radial growth of Alniphyllum fortunei , Machilus pauhoi , and Castanopsis eyrei in a bamboo-expended broadleaf forest (BEBF) and a bamboo-absent broadleaf forest (BABF) using high-resolution point dendrometers. Results We found that the annual radial growth of A. fortunei , M. pauhoi , and C. eyrei was 22.5%, 172.2%, and 59.3% greater in BEBF than in BABF, respectively. The growth rates of M. pauhoi and C. eyrei in BEBF were significantly higher than in BABF by13.9 μm/d and 19.6 μm/d, whereas A. fortunei decreased significantly by 7.9 μm/d from BABF to BEBF. The onset and cessation of broad-leaf tree growth was later, and the growth duration was longer in BEBF compared to BABF. For example, A. fortunei and M. pauhoi in BEBF had more than one month longer growth duration than in BABF. Additionally, the nighttime growth rates of some surviving broad-leaf trees in BEBF was significantly higher than that in BABF. Discussion These results suggest that the surviving trees have plasticity and can adapt to atmospheric changes and competitive relationships after expansion of bamboo in one of two ways: by increasing their growth rates or by modifying onset and cessation of growth to extend the growth duration of trees or avoid the period of intense competition with bamboo, thereby growing better. Our research reveals for the first time how the growth of surviving broad-leaf trees adjusts to bamboo expansion. These results provide insights into how biological expansions impact primary production and have implications for forest management in the Anthropocene.
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This chapter reviews the literature to understand the significance of making decisions about the prevention and/or control of invasive alien species (IAS) that ignore impacts on ecosystem services. It reports damage costs associated with IAS in monetary terms. The costs presented for various provisioning, regulating, and cultural services may be roughly comparable since most of the literature mostly clusters around the early 2000s. Whether damage costs of any magnitude will change the way IAS is managed will naturally depend on the benefits of the activities that lead to the introduction and spread of each species. Identifying potential damage costs and estimating their magnitude is a positive first step towards properly accounting for the full impact of IAS.
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Recent comprehensive data provided through the DAISIE project ( have facilitated the development of the first pan-European assessment of the impacts of alien plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates — in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments — on ecosystem services. There are 1094 species with documented ecological impacts and 1347 with economic impacts. The two taxonomic groups with the most species causing impacts are terrestrial invertebrates and terrestrial plants. The North Sea is the maritime region that suffers the most impacts. Across taxa and regions, ecological and economic impacts are highly correlated. Terrestrial invertebrates create greater economic impacts than ecological impacts, while the reverse is true for terrestrial plants. Alien species from all taxonomic groups affect "supporting", "provisioning", "regulating", and "cultural" services and interfere with human well-being. Terrestrial vertebrates are responsible for the greatest range of impacts, and these are widely distributed across Europe. Here, we present a review of the financial costs, as the first step toward calculating an estimate of the economic consequences of alien species in Europe.
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Aim There is debate over whether alien plants necessarily alter the communities they invade or can coexist with native species without discernable impacts. We followed the fate of montane plant communities in response to the experimental sowing of the alien weed Hieracium lepidulum, looking for changes in plant community composition and structure over 6 years. Location Craigieburn Range, New Zealand. Methods We used a replicated randomised block design, with 30 × 30 cm plots (n = 756) subdivided into 5 × 5 cm cells to examine and compare the effects of H. lepidulum at 0.09 m2 (plot) and 0.0025 m2 (cell) scales. Plots were sown with between 0 and 15,625 H. lepidulum seeds in 2003, forming gradients of invader density and cover. Measurements comprised community richness, evenness and diversity along with H. lepidulum density and cover at both scales. The relationships between the invader and local community attributes were modelled using hierarchical mixed-effect models. Results Plant communities differed in the extent to which they became invaded, with H. lepidulum cover in the plots ranging from 0% to 52%, with a mean of only 1.89%. Plot species richness increased from 2003 to 2009, with a component of this increase (+0.002 species per year) associated with increasing H. lepidulum density. Other relationships between the plant community and H. lepidulum were generally non-significant. Main conclusions In these montane plant communities, it appears H. lepidulum coexists with the native community with no measurable negative effects after 6 years on species richness, evenness or diversity, even where density and cover of the invader are highest. We suggest H. lepidulum has persisted preferentially at those sites with abiotic conditions sufficient to support a species-rich assemblage.
Aims Although biological invasions occur throughout the world, and some invaders are widespread in many habitats, few studies on the ecological impact of invaders have examined multiple sites. We tested how the impact of three widespread plant invaders changed depending on the identity of the species and the invaded island. We also tested whether relative species loss was lower in species-rich communities than in species-poor ones. Location We conducted floristic surveys and soil analyses in eight Mediterranean Basin islands: Crete and Lesbos (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), Corsica, Bagaud and Porquerolles (France), and Mallorca and Menorca (Spain). Methods We compared native species richness and diversity, proportion of life forms, soil percentage nitrogen, percentage organic carbon, C/N, and soil pH in nearby paired plots of 2 x 2 m: one control and one invaded by either the deciduous tree Ailanthus altissima, the succulent subshrubs Carpobrotus spp. or the annual geophyte Oxalis pes-caprae, across eight Mediterranean Basin islands. Results On average, the presence of invaders reduced species diversity, Carpobrotus spp. exhibiting the largest impact and Oxalis the least. However, the relative impact was island-dependent, and was positively but weakly associated with the species richness of the recipient community. Therophytes were the life form that experienced the largest decrease across islands. The effects of invasion on soil properties were very variable. Total N changed (increased) only in plots invaded by Ailanthus, significantly decreasing the C/N ratio. The presence of this tree increased soil pH, whereas the opposite was found in plots invaded by the other two species. Organic C increased in plots invaded by Ailanthus and Carpobrotus species. Main conclusions By conducting an analysis at multiple sites, we found that the three plant invaders had an impact on plant community structure not entirely concordant with changes in soil properties. The impacts depended on the identity of the species and of the invaded island, suggesting that impact of invaders is context-specific. The impact in terms of species loss was not lower in species-rich than in species-poor communities.
Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 947–958 What determines invasiveness of alien organisms is among the most interesting and urgent questions in ecology. In attempts to answer this question, researchers compare invasive alien species either to native species or to non-invasive alien species, and this is done in either the introduced or native ranges. However, inferences that can be drawn from these comparisons differ considerably, and failure to recognize this could hamper the search for determinants of invasiveness. To increase awareness about this issue, we present a framework of the various comparisons that can be used to test for determinants of invasiveness, and the specific questions each comparison can address. Moreover, we discuss how different comparisons complement each other, and therefore should be used in concert. For progress in invasion biology, it is crucial to realize that different comparisons address different biological questions and that some questions can only be answered unambiguously by combining them.
Although the impacts of exotic plant invasions on community structure and ecosystem processes are well appreciated, the pathways or mechanisms that underlie these impacts are poorly understood. Better exploration of these processes is essential to understanding why exotic plants impact only certain systems, and why only some invaders have large impacts. Here, we review over 150 studies to evaluate the mechanisms underlying the impacts of exotic plant invasions on plant and animal community structure, nutrient cycling, hydrology and fire regimes. We find that, while numerous studies have examined the impacts of invasions on plant diversity and composition, less than 5% test whether these effects arise through competition , allelopathy, alteration of ecosystem variables or other processes. Nonetheless, competition was often hypothesized, and nearly all studies competing native and alien plants against each other found strong competitive effects of exotic species. In contrast to studies of the impacts on plant community structure and higher trophic levels, research examining impacts on nitrogen cycling, hydrology and fire regimes is generally highly mechanistic, often motivated by specific invader traits. We encourage future studies that link impacts on community structure to ecosystem processes, and relate the controls over invasibility to the controls over impact.
■ Abstract In the search to identify factors that make some plant species trou- blesome invaders, many studies have compared various measures of native and alien invasive plant performance. These comparative studies provide insights into the more general question "Do alien invasive plants usually outperform co-occurring native species, and to what degree does the answer depend on growing conditions?" Based on 79 independent native-invasive plant comparisons, the alien invaders were not statisti- cally more likely to have higher growth rates, competitive ability, or fecundity. Rather, the relative performance of invaders and co-occurring natives often depended on grow- ing conditions. In 94% of 55 comparisons involving more than one growing condition, the native's performance was equal or superior to that of the invader, at least for some key performance measures in some growing conditions. Most commonly, these con- ditions involved reduced resources (nutrients, light, water) and/or specific disturbance regimes. Independently of growing conditions, invaders were more likely to have higher leaf area and lower tissue construction costs (advantageous under high light and nutrient conditions) and greater phenotypic plasticity (particularly advantageous in disturbed environments where conditions are in frequent flux). There appear to be few "super in- vaders" that have universal performance advantages over co-occurring natives; rather, increased resource availability and altered disturbance regimes associated with hu- man activities often differentially increase the performance of invaders over that of natives.