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Ecological Society of America

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Many plant invasion studies in grasslands suggest that resident plants that share functional traits with invaders can reduce invasion by competing for limiting resources. However, since invasion studies often occur in highly controlled plots or microcosms, it is unclear how heterogeneous site conditions alter competitive interactions under realistic scenarios. To explore how landscape heterogeneity affects biotic resistance provided by competitive resident plants, we conducted a field‐based experiment across four sites in California grasslands. Plots contained naturally occurring populations of native Hemizonia congesta, but differed in other characteristics, including litter cover, annual grass cover, soil moisture, and species richness. We invaded plots with the functionally similar nonnative Centaurea solstitalis (yellow starthistle) and, at one site, supplemented one‐half of the established plots with water to test the effects of increasing a limiting resource. As in simplified plots and microcosms, increasing H. congesta abundance reduced starthistle biomass by competing for limited soil moisture, but only in plots with high starthistle germination. We conclude that higher abundances of native H. congesta can reduce starthistle invasion in heterogeneous grasslands, but competition is also affected by both abiotic (soil moisture) and biotic (starthistle germination number) conditions that vary across sites.