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  • Author or Editor: K.A. Thompson x
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Naturalization is the introduction and establishment of a nonnative species with sustainable populations in a novel environment. The success of nonnative species may be influenced by their relatedness to the native flora. Darwin proposed that if a nonnative plant species is introduced into an environment without native congeners, the nonnative species will have a greater chance of becoming naturalized. To test Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis, we compiled a Kentucky plant database consisting of 821 vascular plant species and subsequently selected species traits and distribution information to determine the effect of congeneric species and traits on the probability of successful naturalization and invasion. The predictors used include reproductive traits, growth form, abundance, habitat type, native congeners, and biogeographical origin. We fit three sets of generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) with a binomial family and a logit link. Backward selection based on minimizing the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) was used in the analyses. Our results from these three sets of models clearly indicate that the validity of Darwin’s hypothesis is invasion stage dependent. More specific, the naturalized and invasive models (predicting the probability of being naturalized and invasive respectively) did not support Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis. The number of native congeners had no effect on the likelihood that a particular species would naturalize and become invasive. Our results suggest that Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis is more relevant during the early stage of establishment as demonstrated by the native model (predicting the probability of being native) and it becomes irrelevant during the late stages of invasion as indicated by the naturalized and invasive models. Thus, it can be generalized that biotic interactions, especially competition, is a critical determinant of initial success for nonnative species in the recipient communities. Once established, the fate of non-native species during the late stages of invasion may be more related to other factors such as biogeographic origin and habitat conditions. Furthermore, we found reproductive traits such as flowering phenology and flower type are associated with invasion success. We also recognized contrasting traits between native and nonnative species, indicating niche differentiation between these two groups of species. Niche overlapping was found as well among species regardless of the status of being native or otherwise. Our study provides a novel approach to advance the understanding of phylogenetic relatedness between nonnative species and native flora by integrating traits and niche concepts at the regional scale.

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