No Support for the Neolithic Plant Invasion Hypothesis : Invasive Species From Eurasia Do Not Perform Better Under Agropastoral Disturbance in Early Life Stages Than Invaders From Other Continents

Pre-adaptation to disturbance is an important driver of biological invasions in human-altered ecosystems. Agropastoralism is one of the oldest forms of landscape management. It surged 12,000 years ago in Western Asia and it was then imported to Europe starting 8,000 years ago. The Neolithic Plant Invasion hypothesis suggests that Eurasian plants succeed at invading agroecosystems worldwide thanks to their adaptation to agropastoralism, which derives from these species' long co-evolution with such practice. Plant species from Western Asia are predicted to have the highest degree of adaptation to agropastoralism, since they have co-evolved with such practice for several millennia more than European plants, and non-Eurasian species should be poorly adapted due to their relatively short exposure. However, this Eurocentric perspective largely ignores that several other cultures around the world independently developed and implemented agropastoralism through history, which challenges this hypothesized superior adaptation of Eurasian species. Here, we tested whether the early-life performance of invasive plants under disturbance depends on their geographical origin and the associated assumed exposure time to agropastoralism. We selected 30 species divided into three groups: exposure long, native to Western Asia; exposure medium, native to Central Europe; exposure short, native to America. Three soil disturbance treatments (control/compaction/tilling) combined with two space occupancy levels (available/occupied) were applied to monospecific experimental units (n = 900), each containing 50 seeds. We predicted that Eurasian species would benefit more from disturbance in terms of germination and seedling performance than species with shorter assumed exposure to agropastoralism, and that this effect would be stronger when space is occupied. Contrary to these expectations, all species groups profited equally from disturbance, while non-Eurasian species were most hampered by space occupancy. For germination success and speed, exposure long species had higher values than exposure short species, regardless of the disturbance treatment. These results do not support that Eurasian species possess a higher adaptation to agropastoralism, but rather that non-Eurasian species can cope just as well with the associated disturbances. We discuss how future experiments that address the complex relationships between species interactions, plant life-phases and the quality of disturbance can help to understand the role of land-use history in plant invasion success.


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