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Ecosystems

, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 503–523 | Cite as

Effects of Exotic Plant Invasions on Soil Nutrient Cycling Processes

  • Joan G. Ehrenfeld
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Abstract

Although it is generally acknowledged that invasions by exotic plant species represent a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystem stability, little attention has been paid to the potential impacts of these invasions on nutrient cycling processes in the soil. The literature on plant–soil interactions strongly suggests that the introduction of a new plant species, such as an invasive exotic, has the potential to change many components of the carbon (C), nitrogen (N), water, and other cycles of an ecosystem. I have reviewed studies that compare pool sizes and flux rates of the major nutrient cycles in invaded and noninvaded systems for invasions of 56 species. The available data suggest that invasive plant species frequently increase biomass and net primary production, increase N availability, alter N fixation rates, and produce litter with higher decomposition rates than co-occurring natives. However, the opposite patterns also occur, and patterns of difference between exotics and native species show no trends in some other components of nutrient cycles (for example, the size of soil pools of C and N). In some cases, a given species has different effects at different sites, suggesting that the composition of the invaded community and/or environmental factors such as soil type may determine the direction and magnitude of ecosystem-level impacts. Exotic plants alter soil nutrient dynamics by differing from native species in biomass and productivity, tissue chemistry, plant morphology, and phenology. Future research is needed to (a) experimentally test the patterns suggested by this data set; (b) examine fluxes and pools for which few data are available, including whole-site budgets; and (c) determine the magnitude of the difference in plant characteristics and in plant dominance within a community that is needed to alter ecosystem processes. Such research should be an integral component of the evaluation of the impacts of invasive species.

Keywords

exotic species invasion ecology ecosystem process carbon nitrogen water soil soil organic matter net primary productivity nutrients litter 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Support from US Department of Agriculture NRICGP grant 95-37101-1701 is gratefully acknowledged. I thank my students (H. Cutway, R. Hamilton, M. Palmer, B. Ravit, K. Ross, E. Stander) and Drs. J.-C. Clement, K. Goodell, and D. Ehrenfeld for helpful comments on an earlier draft. The comments of Dr. Ann Kinzig and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Cook CollegeRutgers University, 14 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901USA

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