Invasional meltdown hypothesizes that invasive species facilitate the establishment of subsequent invaders, with cascading consequences for ecosystem structure and function, including the extirpation of native species. However, meltdown has rarely been tested empirically with large regional data sets, leading to somewhat equivocal support. Recently, the USDA Forest Service initiated sampling of nonnative plants within a subset of their Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots, presenting an ideal dataset to evaluate meltdown and its consequences across large geographies. We used FIA data from 963 plots across 11 northeastern states to test the predictions of invasional meltdown and to examine the mechanism through which invasion impacts native tree seedling richness. Remeasured plots showed a significant increase in the number and cover of invasive species over time. We provide support for invasional meltdown, finding a pattern of accelerating invasive species richness over 4–5 y in plots with higher initial invasive species richness. Also, we found that plots with higher levels of invasive abundance corresponded to decreased native tree species richness at one point in time and that the magnitude of the relationship appeared to be stronger after 4–5 y. Our results suggest that evidence of invasional meltdown is more clearly evident when examining invasive plant species richness over time; further, invader abundance (measured as cover) is a better predictor of impacts than invader richness, which supports growing evidence that invasive abundance is an important driver of ecological impact.
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Vol. 40 • No. 4