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Superior performance and nutrient-use efficiency of invasive plants over non-invasive congeners in a resource-limited environment

Abstract

Invasive plant species are often found to have advantages over native species in growth-related traits, such as photosynthetic rate, in disturbed or resource-rich environments. However, resource-use efficiency, rather than opportunistic resource capture, may confer more advantages when resources are scarce. In this study, performance and functional traits of invasive and non-invasive members of the genus Pinus were contrasted under the condition of nutrient limitations. Invasive species outperformed non-invasive congeners by growing 28% faster, on average. Invasives and non-invasives did not differ in biomass allocation traits (root-weight ratio, stem-weight ratio, leaf-weight ratio, leaf area ratio, root: shoot coefficient), but invaders had thinner and/or less dense leaves, as shown by a significantly lower leaf mass per area and leaf dry mass fraction. No differences between invasives and non-invasives were apparent in area-based leaf content of nitrogen, chlorophyll, or total protein, nor did the two groups differ in how efficiently they took up nutrients (specific absorption rate per unit root mass). The trait most strongly associated with invasives’ superior performance was photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency. Non-invaders were more water-use efficient. The results suggests that the relative performance of invasive and non-invasive species is context-dependent. Invaders may allocate leaf nitrogen more efficiently to maximize photosynthesis and growth in nitrogen-poor soils, while non-invaders with more heavily defended leaves may have an advantage in drier areas. Rather than searching for a suite of traits that constitutes “invasiveness”, it may be necessary to identify potential invaders by traits that are most adaptive to the local resource context.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by a NASA Earth Systems Science fellowship to V. M. The assistance of P. Vitousek, C. Field, and T. DeHoog, and the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers, are gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Virginia Matzek.

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Matzek, V. Superior performance and nutrient-use efficiency of invasive plants over non-invasive congeners in a resource-limited environment. Biol Invasions 13, 3005 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-011-9985-y

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Keywords

  • Biomass allocation
  • Invasiveness
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Nutrient-use efficiency
  • Plant traits
  • Water-use efficiency