Invasion-mediated mutualism disruption is evident across heterogeneous environmental conditions and varying invasion intensities

Morgan D. Roche, Ian S. Pearse, Helen R. Sofaer, Stephanie N. Kivlin, Greg Spyreas, David N. Zaya, Susan Kalisz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of a biological invasion on native communities is expected to be uneven across invaded landscapes due to differences in local abiotic conditions, invader abundance, and traits and composition of the native community. One way to improve predictive ability about the impact of an invasive species given variable conditions is to exploit known mechanisms driving invasive species' success. Invasive plants frequently exhibit allelopathic traits, which can be directly toxic to plants or indirectly impact them via disruption of root symbionts, including mycorrhizal fungi. The indirect mechanism – mutualism disruption – is predicted to impact plants that rely on mycorrhizas but not affect non-mycorrhizal plant species. To assess whether invader-driven mutualism disruption explains observed changes in native plant communities, we analyzed long-term (1998–2018) plant cover data from forest plots across the state of Illinois. We evaluated native plant communities experiencing a range of abundance of invasive allelopathic garlic mustard Alliaria petiolata and varying environmental conditions. Consistent with the mutualism disruption hypothesis, we showed that as garlic mustard abundance increased over time in 0.25 m2 sampling quadrats, the abundance of mycorrhizal plant species decreased, but non-mycorrhizal plant species did not. Over space and time, garlic mustard abundance predicted plant abundances and diversity at the quadrat level, but this relationship was not present at a larger scale when quadrats were aggregated within sites. Garlic mustard's impact on the plant community was highly localized, yet it was as important as abiotic variables for predicting local plant diversity. We showed that garlic mustard abundance was a key predictor of patterns of plant diversity across invasion intensity and environmental heterogeneity in a way that is consistent with mutualism disruption. Our work indicates that the mutualism disruption hypothesis can provide generalizable predictions of the impacts of allelopathic invasive plants that are evident at a broad spatial scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere06434
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Allelopathy
  • Alliaria petiolata
  • Illinois Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP)
  • garlic mustard
  • long-term observational data
  • mutualism disruption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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