Early Acacia invasion in a sandy ecosystem enables shading mediated by soil, leaf nitrogen and facilitation
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Australian species of the genus Acacia are amongst the most invasive trees. As nitrogen fixers, they are able to invade oligotrophic ecosystems and alter ecosystem functioning to their benefit. We aimed to answer three questions: How does early Acacia invasion influence nitrogen and light in a sandy savanna? How does early Acacia invasion impact biodiversity? Does early invasion alter ecosystem functioning towards the dominance of Acacia? We analyzed (using generalized linear mixed models and richness estimators) paired plots focused on plants of Acacia mangium (Fabaceae) and plants of Marcetia taxifolia (Melastomataceae) by taking hemispherical photos and sampling plants, leaves and soil for measurements of light, richness, leaf nitrogen, leaf δ15N, soil nitrogen and soil coarse sand. The results suggest that early Acacia invasion alters the control of soil and of leaf nitrogen and increases shading, enabling a much wider range of light variation. The δ15N results suggest that the nitrogen taken up by Acacia is transferred to neighboring plants and influences the light environment, suggesting facilitation. The enrichment of plant species observed during early Acacia invasion is consistent with the wider range of light variation, but the forecasted leaf nitrogen conditions during the established phase of Acacia invasion might cause loss of light-demanding species because of increased shading. If early Acacia invasion turns into an established phase with highly increased shading, Acacia seedlings might be favored and ecosystem functioning might change towards its dominance.
KeywordsBiological invasion Assembly rules Ecosystem functioning Niche theory Nitrogen fixing Acacia Plant diversity δ15N
The authors thank FAPEMIG, CAPES, CNPq, and PIRSES (PIRSES-GA-2010-269206) for providing grants and scholarships for the INSPECTED.NET project. The authors also thank Rodrigo Nascimento Maia for helping in the stable isotope analyses; JAAMN holds a CNPq productivity fellowship (307591/2016-6).
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