Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Ervin, N. Gary

Committee Member

Rodgers, C. John

Committee Member

Byrd, D. John

Committee Member

Wallace, E. Lisa

Committee Member

Diehl, J. Walter

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Biological Sciences


Of concern in this research were the ecological parameters associated with the establishment of a model invasive plant species, Imperata cylindrica, across a scale of ecological organization. Specifically, the study addressed the species’ ability to: differentially respond to abiotic and biotic constraints during seedling establishment, exhibit a novel underground competitive interference mechanism, and alter the decomposition dynamics in newly invaded ecosystems. Finally, the last portion of the research was centered around creating a predictive habitat model that will provide information on the most important variables responsible for creating habitat for this species. The population level seedling study indicated that soil characteristics and light availability play a significant role in seedling establishment. There were large trends in biomass allocation attributable to soil type with seedlings performing best in high nutrient soils representative of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley physiographic region. I. cylindrica seedlings also showed a positive response to increased seedling density during the initial stages of seedling establishment. The community level research examining a hypothesized novel interference mechanism deployed by I. cylindrica showed a significant and robust pattern of I. cylindrica damaging its own belowground tissue more often than that of its surrounding neighbors. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that I. cylindrica gains a competitive advantage by exposing the native plant assemblage to pathogen invasion (via ruptured tissue) as the plant would expose itself to these pathogens (to which it is evolutionarily naive) at much higher volumes. The ecosystem level examination of this globally important invasive species indicated that I. cylindrica invasion into native systems will significantly accelerate ambient rates of decomposition. Furthermore, fungal community composition in invaded areas was drastically altered as well as bacterial community functional activity in relation to several key enzymes responsible for the decomposition of plant tissue which were produced more abundantly in invaded areas.The landscape-scale analyses and modeling work validated decades of anecdotal evidence and indicated that anthropogenic disturbance factors associated with road maintenance and construction (soil disturbance and vegetation removal) are the principal factors responsible for creating habitat suitable for invasion by this species.



anthropogenic disturbance||landscape ecology||GIS||T-RFLP||BIC||soil microbes||seedling establishment||competition||ROC||allee effects||interference||decomposition alteration||ecosystem alteration||DGGE||invasion ecology||logistic regression||novel weapon||niche modeling||predictive habitat modeling||microbial community ecology||basidiomycetes||cogongrass||plant interference