Differences in nitrogen use strategies between native and exotic tree species: predicting impacts on invaded ecosystems
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Background and aim
Exotic plant species can alter the nitrogen cycle in invaded ecosystems. We assess the differences in nitrogen use strategies and litter production and dynamics among three native riparian trees (Fraxinus angustifolia, Populus alba and Ulmus minor) and three co-occurring exotics (Ailanthus altissima, Robinia pseudoacacia and Ulmus pumila), currently spreading throughout river banks in inner Spain. We aim to predict the ecological consequences of a replacement of the natives by the exotics.
We compared the leaf lifespan, nitrogen resorption efficiency in leaves, nitrogen mean residence time, amount and timing of litter production and amount of nitrogen returned to soils between these native and exotic species.
We found differences among species in all the variables measured, but not between native or exotic origins. Species were ranked from the most to the least conservative nitrogen use strategy as follows: U. pumila was the most conservative species, followed by the three natives (with an intermediate strategy), A. altissima and finally by the nitrogen-fixer R. pseudoacacia. The studied exotic species would produce contrasting impacts on the nitrogen cycle upon invasion.
On the basis of our results, we predict little impacts on the nitrogen cycle if U. pumila dominates the landscape. Despite being nitrogen-fixer R. pseudocacia would not increase soil nitrogen availability in the study area due to its low litter production and litter decomposition rates. In contrast, we predict an increase in nitrogen availability of soils upon A. altissima invasion, as this species produces a high amount of nitrogen rich and labile litter. This study offers a striking example of the contingencies involved in predicting the ecosystem impacts of exotic plant invasion.
KeywordsNitrogen use strategy Nitrogen resorption Mean residence time Litter production Exotic trees riparian forests
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