Native Trees Naturally Fight Invasives in Some Eastern Forests

Invasive Japanese stiltgrass spreading along a forest trailRecent research indicates that invasive plants can be found in nearly half of the forests of the eastern United States, raising concerns about the sustainability of these ecosystems and the benefits and services they provide. The good news is that some eastern forests seem to have a natural, biotic ability to resist invasion. To understand why, a team of university and Forest Service researchers (including scientists from Southern and Northern Research Stations and Eastern Threat Center) looked for clues within “big data” from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. Using information collected from more than 42,000 FIA research plots surveyed across the East, the researchers used innovative statistical models to study the associations between native trees and invasive plants. Their findings suggest that live tree biomass and evolutionary relationships among tree species are key factors for invasion resistance. The researchers also found that evolutionary diversity among tree species plays a more significant role in limiting the dominance of invasive species than preventing their establishment. The researchers’ use of “big data” across such a large spatial scale and their application of sophisticated evolution-based measures of biodiversity uncover trends that bring new thinking to the issue of forest invasions and the importance of native trees.

Pictured: Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) spreads along a forest trail. Researchers found evidence of biotic resistance to establishment and dominance of invasive plants in some forests of the East. Photo by Stephanie Worley Firley, U.S. Forest Service.


Iannone III, Basil V.; Potter, Kevin M.; Hamil, Kelly-Ann Dixon; Huang, Whitney; Zhang, Hao; Guo, Qinfeng; Oswalt, Christopher M.; Woodall, Christopher W.; Fei, Songlin 2016. Evidence of biotic resistance to invasions in forests of the Eastern USA. Landscape Ecology, Vol. 31(1): 15 pages.: 85-99.

Iannone, Basil V.; Oswalt, Christopher M.; Liebhold, Andrew M.; Guo, Qinfeng; Potter, Kevin M.; Nunez-Mir, Gabriela C.; Oswalt, Sonja N.; Pijanowski, Bryan C.; Fei, Songlin; Bradley, Bethany 2015. Region-specific patterns and drivers of macroscale forest plant invasions. Diversity and Distributions. 21(10): 1181-1192.

Forest Service Partners/Collaborators:
Northern Research Station

External Partners/Collaborators: North Carolina State University; Purdue University; National Science Foundation

Contact: Kevin Potter

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