Plant Ecology

, Volume 218, Issue 10, pp 1233–1241 | Cite as

Allelopathic invasive tree (Rhamnus cathartica) alters native plant communities

  • R. J. WarrenIIEmail author
  • Adam Labatore
  • Matt Candeias


Many plants release allelopathic chemicals that can inhibit germination, growth, and/or survival in neighboring plants. These impacts appear magnified with the invasion of some non-native plants which may produce allelochemicals against which native fauna have not co-evolved resistance. Our objective was to examine the potential allelopathic impact of an invasive non-native shrub/tree on multiple plant species using field observation and experimental allelopathy studies. We surveyed and collected an invasive, non-native tree/shrub (Rhamnus cathartica) at Tifft Nature Preserve (a 107-ha urban natural area near Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY). We also surveyed understory plant communities in the urban forest to examine correlations between R. cathartica abundance and local plant community abundance and richness. We then used experimental mesocosms to test if patterns observed in the field could be explained by adding increased dosages of R. cathartica to soils containing five plant species, including native and non-native woody and herbaceous species. In the highly invaded urban forest, we found that herbaceous cover, shrubs and woody seedlings negatively covaried with R. cathartica basal area and seedlings density. In the mesocosm experiments, R. cathartica resulted in significant decreases in plant community species richness, abundance, and shifted biomass allocation from roots. Our results provide evidence that R. cathartica is highly allelopathic in its invaded range, that R. cathartica roots have an allelopathic effect and that some plant species appear immune. We suggest that these effects may explain the plant’s ability to form dense monocultures and resist competitors, as well as shift community composition with species-specific impacts.


Allelopathy Phytotoxicity Recruitment Urban ecology 



The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of USACE or the United States. We thank Elise Labatore for field and lab assistance. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and Luke Flory for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySUNY Buffalo StateBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Army Corps of EngineersWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental SciencesUrbanaUSA

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