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The degree to which invasive species drive or respond to environmental change has important implications for conservation and invasion management. Often characterized as a driver of change in North American woodlands, the invasive herb garlic mustard may instead respond to declines in native plant cover and diversity. We tested effects of native herb cover, richness, and light availability on garlic mustard invasion in a Minnesota oak woodland. We planted 50 garlic mustard seeds into plots previously planted with 0 to 10 native herb species. We measured garlic mustard seedling establishment, survival to rosette and adult stages, and average (per plant) and total (per plot) biomass and silique production. With the use of structural equation models, we analyzed direct, indirect, and net effects of native cover, richness, and light on successive garlic mustard life stages. Native plant cover had a significant negative effect on all life stages. Species richness had a significant positive effect on native cover, resulting in indirect negative effects on all garlic mustard stages, and net negative effects on adult numbers, total biomass, and silique production. Light had a strong negative effect on garlic mustard seedling establishment and a positive effect on native herb cover, resulting in significant negative net effects on garlic mustard rosette and adult numbers. However, light's net effect on total garlic mustard biomass and silique production was positive; reproductive output was high even in low-light/high-cover conditions. Combined effects of cover, richness, and light suggest that native herbs provide biotic resistance to invasion by responding to increased light availability and suppressing garlic mustard responses, although this resistance may be overwhelmed by high propagule pressure. Garlic mustard invasion may occur, in part, in response to native plant decline. Restoring native herbs and controlling garlic mustard seed production may effectively reduce garlic mustard spread and restore woodland diversity.
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