Differential response to frequency-dependent interactions: an experimental test using genotypes of an invasive grass

Collins, Alexandra ; Hart, E. ; Molofsky, J.

In: Oecologia, 2010, vol. 164, no. 4, p. 959-969

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    Positive feedbacks have been suggested as a means for non-indigenous species to successfully invade novel environments. Frequency-dependent feedbacks refer to a species performance being dependent on its local abundance in the population; however, frequency dependence is often described as a monolithic trait of a species rather than examining the variation in response for individual genotypes and fitness traits. Here, we investigate frequency-dependent outcomes for individual genotypes and fitness-related traits for the invasive grass Phalaris arundinacea. We tested for competition-mediated frequency dependence by establishing hexagonal arrays with the center target plant surrounded by either same, different or no genotype neighbors to determine how changing the small-scale frequency neighborhood-influenced invasion success. We used a Bayesian ANOVA approach which allowed us to easily accommodate our non-normal dataset and found that same neighbor plots had greater biomass production than different neighbor plots. Target plants also had greater stem height and aboveground biomass when surrounded by same genotype neighbors. A greenhouse experiment did not support the hypothesis that increased mycorrhizal associations were the cause of positive frequency dependence. We devised a frequency-dependent metric to quantify the extent of fitness-related differences for individual genotypes and found that individual genotypes showed a range of both positive and negative responses to different frequency treatments; however, only positive responses were statistically significant. The small-scale genotypic neighborhood had no effect for the fitness-related traits of leaf number, belowground biomass and total biomass. We demonstrate that individual invasive genotypes respond differently to changing frequency neighborhoods and that growth responses do not respond with the same direction and magnitude. A range of frequency-dependent responses may allow genotypes to invade a wide range of environments