Biological Invasions

, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 1445–1458 | Cite as

Light interception principally drives the understory response to boxelder invasion in riparian forests

  • Marion Bottollier-CurtetEmail author
  • Jean-Yves Charcosset
  • Franck Poly
  • Anne-Marie Planty-Tabacchi
  • Eric Tabacchi
Original Paper


Since several decades, American boxelder (Acer negundo) is replacing white willow (Salix alba) riparian forests along southern European rivers. This study aims to evaluate the consequences of boxelder invasion on understory community in riparian areas. We determined the understory species richness, composition and biomass in boxelder and white willow stands located in three riparian forests, representative of three rivers with distinct hydrological regimes. We investigated correlation of these variables to soil moisture and particle size, main soil nutrient stocks, potential nitrification and denitrification, tree canopy cover and photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) at the ground level. A greenhouse experiment was then conducted to identify the causal factors responsible for changes in the understory. The effect of soil type, PAR level and water level on the growth and the biomass production of Urtica dioica were examined. A lower plant species richness and biomass, and a modification of community composition were observed for boxelder understory in all sites, regardless of their environmental characteristics. The strongest modification that follows boxelder invasion was the decline in U. dioica, the dominant species of the white willow forest understory. These differences were mainly correlated with a lower incident PAR under boxelder canopy. The greenhouse experiment identified PAR level as the main factor responsible for the changes in U. dioica stem number and biomass. Our results indicate that adult boxelder acts as an ecosystem engineer that decreases light availability. The opportunistic invasion by boxelder leads to important understory changes, which could alter riparian ecosystem functioning.


Acer negundo Salix alba Plant community Canopy shading Ecosystem engineer 



We thank N. Guillaumaud for her technical assistance with measuring nitrifying and denitrifying activity, J. Sylvestre for his help for the greenhouse experiment and J. Moro for making the field access easier. The comments and suggestions of the reviewers improved the manuscript. We thank Dr. B. Loveall for English proofreading of the manuscript. M. Bottollier-Curtet was supported by a French MESR fellowship.

Supplementary material

10530_2011_170_MOESM1_ESM.doc (622 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 622 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marion Bottollier-Curtet
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jean-Yves Charcosset
    • 1
    • 2
  • Franck Poly
    • 3
  • Anne-Marie Planty-Tabacchi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eric Tabacchi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’écologie fonctionnelle (EcoLab)Université de ToulouseToulouse Cedex 9France
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’écologie fonctionnelle (EcoLab)CNRSToulouseFrance
  3. 3.Laboratoire d’Ecologie Microbienne de Lyon, UMR 5557, USC INRA 1193Université Lyon 1Villeurbanne CedexFrance

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