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Treatment-based Markov chain models clarify mechanisms of invasion in an invaded grassland community

By Lisa Castillo Nelis and J. Timothy Wootton


What are the relative roles of mechanisms underlying plant responses in grassland communities invaded by both plants and mammals? What type of community can we expect in the future given current or novel conditions? We address these questions by comparing Markov chain community models among treatments from a field experiment on invasive species on Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile. Because of seed dispersal, grazing and disturbance, we predicted that the exotic European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) facilitates epizoochorous exotic plants (plants with seeds that stick to the skin an animal) at the expense of native plants. To test our hypothesis, we crossed rabbit exclosure treatments with disturbance treatments, and sampled the plant community in permanent plots over 3 years. We then estimated Markov chain model transition probabilities and found significant differences among treatments. As hypothesized, this modelling revealed that exotic plants survive better in disturbed areas, while natives prefer no rabbits or disturbance. Surprisingly, rabbits negatively affect epizoochorous plants. Markov chain dynamics indicate that an overall replacement of native plants by exotic plants is underway. Using a treatment-based approach to multi-species Markov chain models allowed us to examine the changes in the importance of mechanisms in response to experimental impacts on communities

Topics: Research articles
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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