The invasion paradox dissolves when using phylogenetic and temporal perspectives

Adrienne R. Ernst*, Rebecca S. Barak, Andrew L. Hipp, Andrea T. Kramer, Hannah E. Marx, Daniel J. Larkin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The prediction that higher biodiversity leads to denser niche packing and thus higher community resistance to invasion has long been studied, with species richness as the predominant measure of diversity. However, few studies have explored how phylogenetic and functional diversity, which should represent niche space more faithfully than taxonomic diversity, influence community invasibility, especially across longer time frames and over larger spatial extents. We used a 15-year, 150-site grassland dataset to assess relationships between invasive plant abundance and phylogenetic, functional and taxonomic diversity of recipient native plant communities. We analysed the dataset both pooled across all surveys and longitudinally, leveraging time-series data to compare observed patterns in invasion with those predicted by two community assembly processes: biotic resistance and competitive exclusion. We expected more phylogenetically and functionally diverse communities to exhibit greater resistance to invasion. With the pooled dataset, we found support for the long-standing observation that communities with more native species have lower abundance of invasive species, and a more novel finding that more phylogenetically diverse communities had higher abundance of invasive species. We found no influence of aggregate (multivariate) functional diversity on invasion, but assemblages with taller plants, lower variability in plant height and lower seed mass were less invaded. Viewed longitudinally, the phylogenetic diversity relationship was reversed: the most phylogenetically diverse communities were most resistant to invasion. This apparent discrepancy suggests invasion dynamics are influenced by both site attributes and biotic resistance and emphasizes the value in studying invasion across time. Synthesis. Our results provide insight into the nuances of the diversity–invasibility relationship: invasion dynamics differed for different dimensions of diversity and depending on whether the relationship was evaluated longitudinally. Our findings highlight the limitations of using single time-point ‘snapshots’ of community composition to infer invasion mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-456
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • biotic resistance hypothesis
  • community assembly
  • community phylogenetics
  • competitive exclusion
  • functional traits
  • invasion ecology
  • invasion paradox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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