Effects of pre-existing submersed vegetation and propagule pressure on the invasion success of Hydrilla verticillata.
With biological invasions causing widespread problems in ecosystems, methods to curb the colonization success of invasive species are needed. The effective management of invasive species will require an integrated approach that restores community structure and ecosystem processes while controlling propagule pressure of non-native species. We tested the hypotheses that restoring native vegetation and minimizing propagule pressure of invasive species slows the establishment of an invader. In field and greenhouse experiments, we evaluated (i) the effects of a native submersed aquatic plant species, Vallisneria americana, on the colonization success of a non-native species, Hydrilla verticillata; and (ii) the effects of H. verticillata propagule density on its colonization success. Results from the greenhouse experiment showed that V. americana decreased H. verticillata colonization through nutrient draw-down in the water column of closed mesocosms, although data from the field experiment, located in a tidal freshwater region of Chesapeake Bay that is open to nutrient fluxes, suggested that V. americana did not negatively impact H. verticillata colonization. However, H. verticillata colonization was greater in a treatment of plastic V. americana look-a-likes, suggesting that the canopy of V. americana can physically capture H. verticillata fragments. Thus pre-emption effects may be less clear in the field experiment because of complex interactions between competitive and facilitative effects in combination with continuous nutrient inputs from tides and rivers that do not allow nutrient draw-down to levels experienced in the greenhouse. Greenhouse and field tests differed in the timing, duration and density of propagule inputs. However, irrespective of these differences, propagule pressure of the invader affected colonization success except in situations when the native species could draw-down nutrients in closed greenhouse mesocosms. In that case, no propagules were able to colonize. Synthesis and applications. We have shown that reducing propagule pressure through targeted management should be considered to slow the spread of invasive species. This, in combination with restoration of native species, may be the best defence against non-native species invasion. Thus a combined strategy of targeted control and promotion of native plant growth is likely to be the most sustainable and cost-effective form of invasive species management.