, Volume 11, Issue 8, pp 1883-1894
Date: 10 Oct 2008

Invasion by an exotic tree alters above and belowground ecosystem components

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Abstract

With the widespread introduction and invasion of exotic plants there is a need for studies that quantify alterations of basic ecosystem structure and function. Ecosystem invasion by Melaleuca quinquenervia significantly altered both above- and belowground ecosystem components in this study. We measured the quantity and nutrient concentration of the litterfall, litter layer, and soil; microbial biomass pools; and rates of potentially mineralizable nitrogen and soil oxygen demand. Annual litterfall was 4.9 times higher in the non-invaded sites and contained 1.9 times more phosphorus than invaded sites. Non-invaded plots contained a larger litter layer compared to invaded plots: 2.4 ± 1.2 kg m−2 and 0.62 ± 0.3 kg m−2 , respectively. Lower nutrient concentration and quantity of the litter layer in the invaded plots led to changes in the aboveground storage of nutrients. In the invaded plots there was four times less carbon, seven times less nitrogen, and ten times less phosphorus stored in the organic litter layer compared to the non-invaded plots. Microbial biomass nutrient pools were consistently lower at both the 0–5 cm and 5–15 cm depth in the invaded soils compared to non-invaded soils, indicating a plant mediated change. Although M. quinquenervia altered microbial community structure, microbial activities were not different between invaded and non-invaded plots at either depth as measured by rates of soil oxygen demand and potentially mineralizable nitrogen. These changes may affect both native plant growth and water quality, and may act to promote and maintain site dominance by M. quinquenervia.