High water-use efficiency and growth contribute to success of non-native Erodium cicutarium in a Sonoran Desert winter annual community

Sarah Kimball, Jennifer R. Gremer, Greg A. Barron-Gafford, Amy L. Angert, Travis E. Huxman, D. Lawrence Venable

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The success of non-native, invasive species may be due to release from natural enemies, superior competitive abilities, or both. In the Sonoran Desert, Erodium cicutarium has increased in abundance over the last 30 years. While native species in this flora exhibit a strong among-species trade-off between relative growth rate and water-use efficiency, E. cicutarium seems to have a higher relative growth rate for its water-use efficiency value relative to the pattern across native species. This novel trait combination could provide the non-native species with a competitive advantage in this water-limited environment. To test the hypothesis that E. cicutarium is able to achieve high growth rates due to release from native herbivores, we compared the effects of herbivory on E. cicutarium and its native congener, Erodium texanum. We also compared these two species across a range of environmental conditions, both in a common garden and in two distinct seasons in the field, using growth analysis, isotopic compositions and leaf-level gas exchange. Additionally, we compared the competitive abilities of the two Erodium species in a greenhouse experiment. We found no evidence of herbivory to either species. Physiological measurements in a common environment revealed that E. cicutarium was able to achieve high growth rates while simultaneously controlling leaflevel water loss. Non-native E. cicutarium responded to favourable conditions in the field with greater specific leaf area and leaf area ratio than native E. texanum. The non-native Erodium was a stronger competitor than its native congener in a greenhouse competition experiment. The ability to maintain relatively higher values of water-use efficiency:relative growth rate in comparison to the native flora may be what enables E. cictarium to outcompete native species in both wet and dry years, resulting in an increase in abundance in the highly variable Sonoran Desert.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbercou006
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Community structure
  • Competition
  • Enemy release hypothesis
  • Invasive species
  • Trade-offs
  • Winter annual plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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