Improving methods to evaluate the impacts of plant invasions: lessons from 40 years of research

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Methods used to evaluate the ecological impacts of biological invasions vary widely from broad-scale observational studies to removal experiments in invaded communities and experimental additions in common gardens and greenhouses. Different methods provide information at diverse spatial and temporal scales with varying levels of reliability. Thus, here we provide a synthetic and critical review of the methods used to evaluate the impacts of plant invasions and provide recommendations for future research. We review the types of methods available and report patterns in methods used, including the duration and spatial scale of studies and plant functional groups examined, from 410 peer-reviewed papers published between 1971 and 2011. We found that there has been a marked increase in papers published on plant invasion impacts since 2003 and that more than half of all studies employed observational methods while ,5 % included predictive modelling. Most of the studies were temporally and spatially restricted with 51 % of studies lasting ,1 year and almost half of all studies conducted in plots or mesocosms ,1 m² . There was also a bias in life form studied: more than 60 % of all studies evaluated impacts of invasive forbs and graminoids while ,16 % focused on invasive trees. To more effectively quantify invasion impacts, we argue that longer-term experimental research and more studies that use predictive modelling and evaluate impacts of invasions on ecosystem processes and fauna are needed. Combining broad-scale observational studies with experiments and predictive modelling may provide the most insight into invasion impacts for policy makers and land managers seeking to reduce the effects of plant invasions. Keywords: Biological invasions, experimental methods, invasive plant, non-native species, observational methods, predictive modelling.

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