Habitat suitability and disturbance can shape the early stages of biological invasions in important ways. Much that we know about habitat suitability and invasion originates from point-in-time studies, which characterize invasive plant abundance and associated site characteristics. In our study, we tested the influence of habitat suitability by creating small-scale invasions in a range of environments. Seeds of the invasive annual grass Japanese stiltgrass [Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus] were planted into six environments in a deciduous forest in central Pennsylvania, and patch growth was monitored for 4 yr. Each of the 30 sites included a subplot subjected to litter disturbance at time of planting. This litter disturbance led to increased seedling recruitment only in the first 2 yr. Although patches were generally larger in wetland and roadside habitats, site influence was highly variable. Environmental variables (soil moisture, ammonium–N, pH, and plant species richness) measured in each plot were better predictors of population success than broad habitat categories. We conclude that risk assessment for species such as M. vimineum should focus not on habitat types but on areas likely to experience the physical changes that release M. vimineum populations.
Nomenclature: Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus (Poaceae).