, Volume 126, Issue 3, pp 345-354

Photosynthesis, photoinhibition, and nitrogen use efficiency in native and invasive tree ferns in Hawaii


Photosynthetic gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, nitrogen use efficiency, and related leaf traits of native Hawaiian tree ferns in the genus Cibotium were compared with those of the invasive Australian tree fern Sphaeropteris cooperi in an attempt to explain the higher growth rates of S. cooperi in Hawaii. Comparisons were made between mature sporophytes growing in the sun (gap or forest edge) and in shady understories at four sites at three different elevations. The invasive tree fern had 12–13 cm greater height increase per year and approximately 5 times larger total leaf surface area per plant compared to the native tree ferns. The maximum rates of photosynthesis of S. cooperi in the sun and shade were significantly higher than those of the native Cibotium spp (for example, 11.2 and 7.1 µmol m–2 s–1, and 5.8 and 3.6 µmol m–2 s–1 respectively for the invasive and natives at low elevation). The instantaneous photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency of the invasive tree fern was significantly higher than that of the native tree ferns, but when integrated over the life span of the frond the differences were not significant. The fronds of the invasive tree fern species had a significantly shorter life span than the native tree ferns (approximately 6 months and 12 months, respectively), and significantly higher nitrogen content per unit leaf mass. The native tree ferns growing in both sun and shade exhibited greater photoinhibition than the invasive tree fern after being experimentally subjected to high light levels. The native tree ferns recovered only 78% of their dark-acclimated quantum yield (F v/F m), while the invasive tree fern recovered 90% and 86% of its dark-acclimated F v/F m when growing in sun and shade, respectively. Overall, the invasive tree fern appears to be more efficient at capturing and utilizing light than the native Cibotium species, particularly in high-light environments such as those associated with high levels of disturbance.

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