, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 113-121

Nitrogen Limits an Invasive Perennial Shrub in Forest Understory

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Plant invasions can harm communities by domination of one or more vegetation layers. We studied whether Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii DC.) is limited by soil acidity or nitrogen availability in its domination of relatively undisturbed forest understories. In two sites, one more acid than the other, we applied lime, urea, or a sawdust–sugar mix to replicate plots in established barberry populations. We predicted that the acid site would be pH or cation limited, while the less acid site was N limited, unless N availability was inherently higher before treatment. Barberry above-ground net primary production (NPP) was estimated by a combination of harvest and allometric analysis. Foliar N increased in the urea treatment and was proportional to incubation estimates of net N mineralization and nitrification. Foliar Ca and P were unaffected by the treatments. Foliar K was proportional to foliar N. The more acid site had higher foliar Mn, but otherwise the sites differed little. Barberry NPP was proportional to pre-treatment biomass. The ratio of net production to pre-treatment woody biomass (relative production rate) increased with foliar N and soil N availability and decreased when soil N was immobilized by sawdust and sugar. There was no effect of soil pH or cation status on barberry growth, although a correlation with foliar K was reflected by the maintenance of a constant K : N ratio. Although more severely acid sites may be less invasible than those studied here, N availability is the primary limitation to invasive dominance in this landscape.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.