As Rebecca Brown kayaked down the Nolichucky River in North Carolina one summer, she followed a path similar to many of her own study subjects. Seeds and other propagules often float downstream before settling along riverbanks. Rampant with change, these areas offer a nutrient-rich location for new plants, yet pose the danger of sweeping vegetation away in a flood. It is this high volatility that makes the area resource rich and perfect for invasive and native plants to put down their roots. In a study presented in January’s Ecology, researchers Rebecca Brown and Robert Peet found areas subject to frequent flooding also showed a higher number of invasive exotic plants than upland regions outside of floodplains.
Mild to low-intensity disturbances, such as a small flood from a rainstorm every year, or larger floods every few years, create space and make nutrients available, allowing new plants to grow. Scientists call this an immigration process. In contrast to extinction processes such as competition, extreme disturbances, and environmental stresses, the immigration process sets the stage for new life.
“Community composition is driven by immigration. Areas disturbed frequently, such as riversides and roadsides, are more receptive to propagules from native species and also prove to be just as hospitable for exotics,” said Brown.
Annie Drinkard | EurekAlert!
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