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Predicting invasiveness in exotic species: do subtropical native and invasive exotic aquatic plants differ in their growth responses to macronutrients?

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We investigated whether plasticity in growth responses to nutrients could predict invasive potential in aquatic plants by measuring the effects of nutrients on growth of eight non-invasive native and six invasive exotic aquatic plant species. Nutrients were applied at two levels, approximating those found in urbanized and relatively undisturbed catchments, respectively. To identify systematic differences between invasive and non-invasive species, we compared the growth responses (total biomass, root:shoot allocation, and photosynthetic surface area) of native species with those of related invasive species after 13 weeks growth. The results were used to seek evidence of invasive potential among four recently naturalized species. There was evidence that invasive species tend to accumulate more biomass than native species (P = 0.0788). Root:shoot allocation did not differ between native and invasive plant species, nor was allocation affected by nutrient addition. However, the photosynthetic surface area of invasive species tended to increase with nutrients, whereas it did not among native species (P = 0.0658). Of the four recently naturalized species, Hydrocleys nymphoides showed the same nutrient-related plasticity in photosynthetic area displayed by known invasive species. Cyperus papyrus showed a strong reduction in photosynthetic area with increased nutrients. H. nymphoides and C. papyrus also accumulated more biomass than their native relatives. H. nymphoides possesses both of the traits we found to be associated with invasiveness, and should thus be regarded as likely to be invasive.
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Keywords: Leaf area; nitrogen; phosphorus; plant functional groups; root:shoot allocation; weed risk assessment

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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