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Alba, C., Alba C, Fahey, C., Fahey C, Flory, S. L., & Flory SL. (2019). Global change stressors alter resources and shift plant interactions from facilitation to competition over time. Ecology, .
Abstract: Global change stressors such as drought and plant invasion can affect ecosystem structure and function via mediation of resource availability and plant competition outcomes. Yet, it remains uncertain how native plants respond to drought stress that co-occurs with potentially novel resource conditions created by a nonnative invader. Further, there is likely to be temporal variation in competition outcomes between native and nonnative plant species depending on which resources are most limiting at a given time. Interacting stressors coupled with temporal variation make it difficult to predict how global change will impact native plant communities. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a 5-yr factorial field experiment to quantify how simulated drought, plant invasion (by cogongrass, Imperata cylindrica), and these stressors combined, affected resource availability (soil moisture and light) and competition dynamics between the invader and native longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), a foundation species in southeast U.S. forests. Drought and invasion mediated the survival and performance of pine seedlings in temporally dynamic and unexpected ways. Drought and invasion alone each significantly reduced pine seedling survival. However, when the stressors occurred together, the invader offset drought stress for pine seedlings by maintaining high levels of soil moisture, humidity, and shade compared to uninvaded vegetation. This facilitative effect was pronounced for 2 yr, yet shifted to strong competitive exclusion as the invasion progressed and the limiting resource switched from soil moisture to light. After 3 yr, pine tree survival was low except for pines growing with uninvaded vegetation under ambient precipitation conditions. After 5 yr, pines experiencing a single stressor were taller and had greater height to diameter ratios than pines under no stress or both stressors. This outcome revealed a filtering effect where poorly performing trees were culled under stressful conditions, especially when pines were growing with the invader. Together, these results demonstrate that although drought and invasion suppressed a foundation tree species, the invader temporarily moderated stressful drought conditions, and at least some trees were able to survive despite increasingly strong competition. Such unpredictable effects of interacting global change stressors on native plant species highlight the need for additional long-term studies.