Exotic plant invasions over 40 years of old field succession: community patterns and associations

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While exotic plant species often come to dominate disturbed communities, long-term patterns of invasion are poorly known. Here we present data from 40 yr of continuous vegetation sampling, documenting the temporal distribution of exotic plant species in old field succession. The relative cover of exotic species decreased with time since abandonment, with significant declines occurring ‚â•20 yr post-abandonment. The number of exotic species per plot also declined with time since abandonment while field-scale richness of exotics did not change. This suggests displacement occurring at small spatial scales. Life history types changed from short-lived herbaceous species to long-lived woody species for both native and exotic plant species. However, shrubs and lianas dominated woody cover of exotic plants while trees dominated native woody cover. The species richness of exotic and native species was positively correlated at most times. In abandoned hay fields, however, the proportion of exotic plant cover per plot was inversely related to total species richness. This relationship suggests that it is not the presence, but the abundance of exotic species that may cause a reduction in community diversity. While the development of closed-canopy forest appears to limit most introduced plant species, several shade-adapted exotic species are increasing within the fields. These invasions may cause a reversal of the patterns seen in the first 40 yr of succession and may result in further impacts on community structure.