Biological Invasions

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 37–58 | Cite as

Tall-statured grasses: a useful functional group for invasion science

  • Susan CanavanEmail author
  • Laura A. Meyerson
  • Jasmin G. Packer
  • Petr Pyšek
  • Noëlie Maurel
  • Vanessa Lozano
  • David M. Richardson
  • Giuseppe Brundu
  • Kim Canavan
  • Angela Cicatelli
  • Jan Čuda
  • Wayne Dawson
  • Franz Essl
  • Francesco Guarino
  • Wen-Yong Guo
  • Mark van Kleunen
  • Holger Kreft
  • Carla Lambertini
  • Jan Pergl
  • Hana Skálová
  • Robert J. Soreng
  • Vernon Visser
  • Maria S. Vorontsova
  • Patrick Weigelt
  • Marten Winter
  • John R. U. Wilson


Species in the grass family (Poaceae) have caused some of the most damaging invasions in natural ecosystems, but plants in this family are also among the most widely used by humans. Therefore, it is important to be able to predict their likelihood of naturalisation and impact. We explore whether plant height is of particular importance in determining naturalisation success and impact in Poaceae by comparing naturalisation of tall-statured grasses (TSGs; defined as grass species that maintain a self-supporting height of 2 m or greater) to non-TSGs using the Global Naturalised Alien Flora database. We review the competitive traits of TSGs and collate risk assessments conducted on TSGs. Of the c. 11,000 grass species globally, 929 qualify (c. 8.6%) as TSGs. 80.6% of TSGs are woody bamboos, with the remaining species scattered among 21 tribes in seven subfamilies. When all grass species were analysed, TSGs and non-TSGs did not differ significantly in the probability of naturalisation. However, when we analysed woody bamboos separately from the other grasses, the percentage of TSGs that have naturalised was 2–4 times greater than that of non-TSGs for both bamboos and non-bamboo groups. Our analyses suggest that woody bamboos should be analysed separately from other TSGs when considering naturalisation; within the ≥ 2 m height class they do not naturalise at the same rate as other TSGs. Rapid growth rate and the capacity to accumulate biomass (a function of height) give many TSGs a competitive advantage and allow them to form monospecific stands, accumulate dense and deep litter mats, reduce light availability at ground level, and alter fire and nutrient-cycling regimes, thereby driving rapid ecosystem transformation. While the height distribution in grasses is continuous (i.e. no obvious break is evident in heights), the 2 m designation for TSGs defines an important functional group in grasses that can improve predictive modelling for management and biosecurity.


Arundo Bamboos Biological invasions Height Invasive species Miscanthus Phragmites Plant functional groups Poaceae Risk assessment 



We thank the University of Sassari, Italy, for hosting the PhragNet 2016 planning meeting and creating the space that facilitated this manuscript. SC, DMR and JRUW acknowledge support from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant 85417 to DMR). SC and JRUW acknowledge support from the South African National Department of Environment Affairs through its funding of the South African National Biodiversity Institute Invasive Species Programme. PP, JP, JČ, WYG and HS were supported by long-term research development Project RVO 67985939 (The Czech Academy of Sciences), Projects No. 14-36079G, Centre of Excellence PLADIAS and No. 14-15414S (Czech Science Foundation) and PP acknowledges support by Praemium Academiae award from The Czech Academy of Sciences. MvK and MW acknowledge support from the German Research Foundation (DFG, MvK: 264740629; MW: FZT 118), and FE was supported by the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF, Grant I2086-B16). JGP acknowledges support from the Faculty of Sciences and Environment Institute (Travel Grant 13116630) of The University of Adelaide.

Supplementary material

10530_2018_1815_MOESM1_ESM.docx (49 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 49 kb)
10530_2018_1815_MOESM2_ESM.xls (102 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLS 101 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and ZoologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African National Biodiversity InstituteKirstenbosch Research CentreClaremontSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resources ScienceThe University of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  4. 4.Environment InstituteThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Department of Invasion Ecology, Institute of BotanyThe Czech Academy of SciencesPrůhoniceCzech Republic
  6. 6.Department of Ecology, Faculty of ScienceCharles UniversityPragueCzech Republic
  7. 7.Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of KonstanzConstanceGermany
  8. 8.Department of AgricultureUniversity of SassariSassariItaly
  9. 9.Department of Zoology and EntomologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  10. 10.Department of Chemistry and Biology ‘‘A. Zambelli’’University of SalernoFiscianoItaly
  11. 11.Department of BiosciencesDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  12. 12.Division of Conservation, Vegetation and Landscape EcologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  13. 13.Zhejiang Provincial Key Laboratory of Plant Evolutionary Ecology and ConservationTaizhou UniversityTaizhouChina
  14. 14.Biodiversity, Macroecology and BiogeographyUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  15. 15.Centre of Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Use (CBL)University of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  16. 16.Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  17. 17.Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  18. 18.Department of Statistical Sciences, Statistics in Ecology, Environment and ConservationUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  19. 19.African Climate and Development InitiativeUniversity of Cape TownCape Town, RondeboschSouth Africa
  20. 20.Comparative Plant and Fungal BiologyRoyal Botanic Gardens, KewRichmond, SurreyUK
  21. 21.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  22. 22.Leipzig UniversityLeipzigGermany

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