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Data from: The tortoise and the hare: reducing resource availability shifts competitive balance between plant species

Cite this dataset

Pearson, Dean E.; Ortega, Yvette K.; Maron, John L. (2018). Data from: The tortoise and the hare: reducing resource availability shifts competitive balance between plant species [Dataset]. Dryad.


1.Determining how changes in abiotic conditions influence community interactions is a fundamental challenge in ecology. Meeting this challenge is increasingly imperative in the Anthropocene where climate change and exotic species introductions alter abiotic context and biotic composition to reshuffle natural systems. 2.We created plant assemblages consisting of monocultures or equal abundance of the native community dominant bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) and the exotic spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), a co-occurring invasive forb that has overtaken grasslands across the western United States. We subjected these composition treatments to drought (20% of average precipitation vs average) and herbivory on C. stoebe by its biocontrol agent Cyphocleonus achates to explore how reduced precipitation might influence the effects of competition and biocontrol herbivory on C. stoebe's abundance. 3.At the end of seven years, C. stoebe dominated mixed-species plots under normal precipitation conditions, with biomass 50% greater than that of the native P. spicata. However, under drought stress, P. spicata's biomass was >200% greater than C. stoebe's. Interestingly, both species were impervious to drought in monoculture, indicating the importance of the drought by competition interaction. The biocontrol herbivore reduced C. stoebe abundance and indirectly increased P. spicata biomass in mixed-species drought plots, but these effects were only marginally significant and relatively weak. Overall, C. stoebe abundance was primarily driven by the drought by competition interaction, with negatively additive but weak effects of the drought by herbivory interaction. 4.The response of the exotic to the treatments was driven by rapid changes in population density linked to its fast life history strategy, while the native's response was driven by changes in per capita plant biomass linked to its slower life history strategy. Individual plant performance metrics did not predict overall population responses for the invader, indicating the importance of longer-term population measures. 5.Synthesis. These results demonstrate that reduced precipitation inputs linked to climate change can dramatically shift the balance of plant competition, even toggling the advantage from exotic to native dominance. They also illustrate the importance of biotic interactions in predicting species responses to abiotic change.

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North America
Northern Rocky Mountains