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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Organismic & Evolutionary Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Long-term population dynamics across heterogeneous environments can be a major factor in determining species’ ability to expand their ranges and persist in novel environments. Whether and how the relative performance of populations in different microsites over time impacts invasion into new microsites is poorly understood. Though largely restricted to disturbed semi-shaded microhabitats in its home range, the invasive herb Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) successfully invades intact forest understories – a novel microhabitat – in its introduced range, where it is known to impact above and below ground community composition. To test the hypothesis that source-sink metapopulation dynamics may be promoting A. petiolata’s incursion into the forest understory, I utilized two multi-season field surveys – approximately a decade apart – to evaluate trait variation, biomass allocation, and long-term population demographics of A. petiolata growing at the forest edge, within the intact forest understory, and in the intermediate transition zone between the two. My results show that adult plants in the edge were taller and branchier, produced more fruits, and had higher total and reproductive biomass than plants in the intermediate and forest microhabitats. Over time, seedling density remained highest in the edge microhabitat compared to the forest and intermediate microhabitats, which had similar densities. Reproductive adult densities were similar among all microhabitats at the beginning of the study, but a decade later, all microhabitats exhibited a decline in the number of adult plants they supported. Populations in the intermediate microhabitat displayed the steepest decline in reproductive adults between sampling periods but still supported more adult plants than the forest microhabitat. Populations in all microhabitats were predicted to grow (λ>1) at the onset of the study. A decade later, declines in population size were only predicted in the forest understory (λ1). Since edge and intermediate patches had higher densities of adult plants which produced the most fruit and had larger reproductive biomass, it appears that the edge populations, and possibly the intermediate populations, have sustained the low-density forest populations through source-sink dynamics at my study sites.


First Advisor

Kristina A. Stinson