Leaf litter variation influences invasion dynamics in the invasive wetland grass Phalaris arundinacea
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High litter mass is hypothesized to produce an invader-directed invasion by changing ecosystem properties such as nutrient cycling rates and light availability. An invasive plant species that stimulates litter accumulation may induce a positive feedback when it benefits from high litter conditions. Phalaris arundinacea is an invasive wetland grass that may induce positive litter feedback, as it produces abundant litter that varies in quality due to a wide range of foliar C:N content. In this study we investigated the range of growth responses within native and invasive genotypes of Phalaris that varied in initial foliar C:N levels (high C:N content was present in the invasive genotypes) when grown under varying litter mass. Overwintering with high litter reduced establishing tiller survivorship and the presence of litter delayed tiller emergence by 2 weeks. Overall, genotypes exhibited high trait plasticity in response to litter. Our results indicate that high litter mass can stimulate Phalaris growth, specifically for the genotypes with high initial C:N foliar tissue. Additionally, genotypes with initially high C:N ratios exhibited plastic responses consistent with a Master-of-some strategy indicating that their performance under high litter may depend upon the nutrient conditions under which they are grown. This study provides evidence for conditions that may lead to a positive feedback in Phalaris’ introduced range. Future studies should investigate how changing litter quantity alters nutrient cycling and competitor growth.
KeywordsC:N ratio Ecosystem engineer Intraspecific variation Invasion Leaf litter Phalaris Positive feedbacks Reed canary grass Wetland
Sincerest thanks to our colleagues at the Odum Conference 2009, Rensselaerville, NY, our reviewers, as well as K. Alley, D. Barrington, R. Collins, A. DeSenna, M. Harlacher, D. Ross, L. Schmitt, E. Sorel, S. Strella and H. Tobi, for their contributions throughout the project. This research was supported by a USDA Hatch and USDA-NRI 2006-03645 Grant awarded to J. Molofsky.
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