It has been long established that the richness of vascular plant species and many animal taxa decreases with increasing latitude, a pattern that very generally follows declines in actual and potential evapotranspiration, solar radiation, temperature, and thus, total productivity. Using county-level data on vascular plants from the United States (3000 counties in the conterminous 48 states), we used the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) to evaluate competing models predicting native and nonnative plant species density (number of species per square kilometer in a county) from various combinations of biotic variables (e.g., native bird species density, vegetation carbon, normalized difference vegetation index), environmental/topographic variables (elevation, variation in elevation, the number of land cover classes in the county; radiation, mean precipitation, actual evapotranspiration, and potential evapotranspiration), and human variables (human population density, crop-land, and percentage of disturbed lands in a county). We found no evidence of a latitudinal gradient for the density of native plant species and a significant, slightly positive latitudinal gradient for the density of nonnative plant species. We found stronger evidence of a significant, positive productivity gradient (vegetation carbon) for the density of native plant species and nonnative plant species. We found much stronger significant relationships when biotic, environmental/topographic, and human variables were used to predict native plant species density and nonnative plant species density. Biotic variables generally had far greater influence in multivariate models than human or environmental/topographic variables. Later, we found that the best, single, positive predictor of the density of nonnative plant species in a county was the density of native plant species in a county. While further study is needed, it may be that, while humans facilitate the initial establishment invasions of nonnative plant species, the spread and subsequent distributions of nonnative species are controlled largely by biotic and environmental factors.
Additional publication details
Plant species invasions along the latitudinal gradient in the United States