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Invasive grass (Microstegium vimineum) indirectly benefits spider community by subsidizing available prey


Landsman, Andrew; Burghardt, Karin; Bowman, Jacob (2021), Invasive grass (Microstegium vimineum) indirectly benefits spider community by subsidizing available prey, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Invasive plant species cause a suite of direct, negative ecological impacts, but subsequent, indirect effects are more complex and difficult to detect. Where identified, indirect effects to other taxa can be wide-ranging and include ecological benefits in certain habitats or locations.

2. Here, we simultaneously examine the direct and indirect effects of a common, invasive grass species (Microstegium vimineum) on the invertebrate communities of understory deciduous forests in the eastern United States. To do this, we use two complementary analytic approaches to compare invaded and reference plots: 1) community composition analysis of understory arthropod taxa and 2) analysis of isotopic carbon and nitrogen ratios of a representative predatory spider species.

3. Invaded plots contained a significantly greater abundance of nearly all taxa, including predators, herbivores, and detritivores. Spider communities contained over seven times more individuals and exhibited greater species diversity and richness in invaded plots.

4. Surprisingly, however, the abundant invertebrate community is not nutritionally supported by the invasive plant, despite 100% ground cover of M. vimineum. Instead, spider isotopic carbon ratios showed that the invertebrate prey community found within invaded plots was deriving energy from the plant tissue of C3 plants and not the prevalent, aboveground M. vimineum

5. Synthesis and applications. We demonstrate that invasive M. vimineum can create non-nutritional ecological benefits for some invertebrate taxa, with potential impacts to the nutritional dynamics of invertebrate-vertebrate food webs. These positive impacts, however, may be restricted to habitats that experience high levels of ungulate herbivory or reduced vegetative structural complexity. Our results highlight the importance of fully understanding taxon- and habitat-specific effects of invading plant species when prioritizing invasive species removal or management efforts.