Plant-herbivore interactions influence the establishment context of plant species, as herbivores alter the community context in which individual species establish, and the spatial relationship between individuals and their source population as plants invade. This relationship can be described using an establishment kernel, which takes into account movement through seed dispersal, and subsequent establishment of adults. Mammalian herbivores are hypothesized to influence plant population growth and establishment through a combination of consumption of seeds and seedlings, and movement of seeds. While the movement abilities of plants are well known, we have very few empirical mechanistic tests of how biotic factors like mammalian herbivores influence this spread potential. As herbivores of all sizes are abundant on the landscape, we asked the question, how do mammalian herbivores influence the population growth, spatial establishment, and the community establishment context of an early-recruiting native prairie legume, Chamaecrista fasciculata?We planted C. fasciculata in source populations within a four-acre tallgrass prairie restoration in plots with and without herbivores, and monitored its establishment with respect to distance from the source populations. We found that herbivores decreased population growth, and decreased the mean and range establishment distance. Additionally, C. fasciculata established more often without herbivores, and when surrounded by weedy, annual species. Our results provide insight into how the interactions between plants and herbivores can alter the spatial dynamics of developing plant communities, which is vital for colonization and range spread with fragmentation and climate change. Mammalian herbivores have the potential to both slow rates of establishment, but also determine the types of plant communities that surround invading species. Therefore, it is essential to consider the herbivore community when attempting to restore functioning plant communities.
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© 2016 Sullivan et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.