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Why are some plant genera more invasive than others?

Abstract

Determining how biological traits are related to the ability of groups of organisms to become economically damaging when established outside of their native ranges is a major goal of population biology, and important in the management of invasive species. Little is known about why some taxonomic groups are more likely to become pests than others among plants. We investigated traits that discriminate vascular plant genera, a level of taxonomic generality at which risk assessment and screening could be more effectively performed, according to the proportion of naturalized species which are pests. We focused on the United States and Canada, and, because our purpose is ultimately regulatory, considered species classified as weeds or noxious. Using contingency tables, we identified 11 genera of vascular plants that are disproportionately represented by invasive species. Results from boosted regression tree analyses show that these categories reflect biological differences. In summary, approximately 25% of variation in genus proportions of weeds or noxious species was explained by biological covariates. Key explanatory traits included genus means for wetland habitat affinity, chromosome number, and seed mass.

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