Redundancy and niche differentiation among the European invasiveElodeaspecies

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Abstract

Community ecologists implicitly assume redundancy when they aggregate species into functional groups. But there have been remarkably few empirical efforts to investigate the accuracy of this concept in situ. The concept of redundancy could be roughly split into two components: the ecological redundancy (similar response to environmental variations involving similar ecological processes) and the functional redundancy (similar biological trait combinations shaping similar functional processes). Both types of redundancy are tested among the 3 invasive European Elodeas. In 11 sites and during two successive years 2004–2005, the cover growth rate of each Elodea species was monthly recorded. To test ecological redundancy, cover growth rates were related to a large suite of environmental variables. To test functional redundancy, 13 biological traits involved in competitive relationships were measured each month. Firstly, the redundancy hypothesis looks problematic for Elodea ernstiae. Indeed, the later possess numerous biological traits involved in light competition and niche overlap with the other Elodeas is very low. Secondly, ecological and functional redundancy can be successfully applied to Elodea canadensis and Elodea nuttallii. They share a large suite of biological traits leading to wide niche overlaps through the growing season. And the measured environmental variables do not differentially influence their growth rates, which are, in turn, controlled by a similar group of biological traits. In this way, the different invasiveness patterns of E. canadensis and E. nuttallii could be solely due to the ecological drift and their ecological dynamic could follow neutral rules.

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