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Belowground mutualists and the invasive ability of Acacia longifolia in coastal dunes of Portugal

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The ability to form symbiotic associations with soil microorganisms and the consequences for plant growth were studied for three woody legumes grown in five different soils of a Portuguese coastal dune system. Seedlings of the invasive Acacia longifolia and the natives Ulex europaeus and Cytisus grandiflorus were planted in the five soil types in which at least one of these species appear in the studied coastal dune system. We found significant differences between the three woody legumes in the number of nodules produced, final plant biomass and shoot 15N content. The number of nodules produced by A. longifolia was more than five times higher than the number of nodules produced by the native legumes. The obtained 15N values suggest that both A. longifolia and U. europaeus incorporated more biologically-fixed nitrogen than C. grandiflorus which is also the species with the smallest distribution. Finally, differences were also found between the three species in the allocation of biomass in the different studied soils. Acacia longifolia displayed a lower phenotypic plasticity than the two native legumes which resulted in a greater allocation to aboveground biomass in the soils with lower nutrient content. We conclude that the invasive success of A. longifolia in the studied coastal sand dune system is correlated to its capacity to nodulate profusely and to use the biologically-fixed nitrogen to enhance aboveground growth in soils with low N content.

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This work was supported by the project ROBIN (POCI/BIA-BDE/56941/2004) and by a post-doctoral research grant (SFRH/BPD/21066/2004) awarded to SRE, both from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and the European Union (POCI 2010). We are grateful to Juan Antonio Galán for technical assistance during plant harvest.

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Correspondence to Susana Rodríguez-Echeverría.

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Rodríguez-Echeverría, S., Crisóstomo, J.A., Nabais, C. et al. Belowground mutualists and the invasive ability of Acacia longifolia in coastal dunes of Portugal. Biol Invasions 11, 651–661 (2009).

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