Ecosystem changes in Galápagos highlands by the invasive tree Cinchona pubescens

Abstract

Background and aims

Various studies address changes in nitrogen and carbon cycling by exotic plant species, while impacts on phosphorus cycling are understudied. Therefore, we assessed the effects of the introduced Cinchona pubescens Vahl on plant and soil nutrients (especially phosphorus) in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos.

Methods

Nutrient analyses were carried out on soil, leaf litter, and leaf samples taken from Cinchona, the endemic shrub Miconia robinsoniana Cogn. and the native fern Pteridium arachnoideum (Kaulf.) Maxon. in plots invaded and previously invaded by Cinchona.

Results

Cinchona contained significantly more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in its green leaves than Miconia. Surprisingly, there was no evidence of phosphorus resorption in senesced Cinchona leaves. This was also the case in Miconia leaves, but only in Cinchona-invaded plots. Specific leaf area of Cinchona was significantly higher than of Miconia and Pteridium leaves, as was its litter turnover rate. Total soil nitrogen, ammonium and available phosphorus concentrations were higher in the invaded plots. Leaf litter from these plots also contained more phosphorus, which was positively correlated with the phosphorus concentrations in the soil.

Conclusions

These results suggest enhanced nutrient uptake by Cinchona and a faster decomposition of its litter, leading to increased nutrient availability in the soil. An accelerated cycling could promote spread of Cinchona and other introduced species, increasing the risk of further displacement of indigenous plant species in the Santa Cruz highlands.

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Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and by a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme. We would like to thank the Charles Darwin Foundation for logistic support and the Galápagos National Park for permission to carry out the research and for sample export permits. Karin Grandy, Claudia Kuntz, Marie-José Limoges, Sabine Rautenberg, Monika Rohrbeck and Caeley Thacker provided invaluable support in the field and lab. Furthermore we would like to thank Stephen Porder, Michael Rode, Alan Tye and members of the Porder lab at Brown University for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and Jon Witman for the final revision. This paper is contribution number 1071 of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

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Correspondence to Heinke Jäger.

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Table S1

Concentration (=Resorption proficiency) of N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and C (mg g−1) and C:N and N:P of senesced leaves of Pteridium arachnoideum, Cinchona pubescens, and Miconia robinsoniana across four sites in the Miconia zone (two sites with current and two sites with previous Cinchona invasion). Values are means ± SE, n = 14. Levels within the same nutrient not connected by the same letter were significantly different in Tukey’s HSD test after three-way-ANOVA (invaded plots only, upper case letter, shaded) and after four-way-ANOVA (invaded and previously invaded sites, lower case letter, shaded and non-shaded) (DOCX 15 kb)

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Jäger, H., Alencastro, M.J., Kaupenjohann, M. et al. Ecosystem changes in Galápagos highlands by the invasive tree Cinchona pubescens . Plant Soil 371, 629–640 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-013-1719-8

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Keywords

  • Biological invasion
  • Conservation
  • Ecological impacts
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Nutrient resorption proficiency
  • Phosphorus