Phosphorus enrichment enabled Amorpha fruticosa to invade on the floodplain of the Tagliamento River, Italy


Type: Link Language: English Author: Peter Edwards, Christian Hügli, Harry Olde Venterink, Dieter Ramseier

The North American nitrogen-fixing shrub Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo) is an aggressive invader of riverine habitats in Europe, though the reasons for its success are poorly understood. We hypothesized that its spread on the floodplain of the Tagliamento River in Northern Italy was enabled by anthropogenic phosphorus (P) enrichment. To investigate this hypothesis, we surveyed seed production at different locations along the river and performed a growth chamber experiment in which seedlings of three common floodplain shrubs (A. fruticosa, Salix eleagnos and Buddleja davidii) were grown at 10 levels of both nitrogen (N) and P. As a bioassay of N and P availabilities, we analyzed concentrations of these nutrients in Salix eleagnos leaves collected at different positions along the river. P availability was significantly higher in the lower reaches of the river, where A. fruticosa was abundant, than at its upstream limit. Numbers of A. fruticosa seeds per inflorescence increased strongly in a downstream direction and there was a trend for higher seed weight. In the growth experiment, A. fruticosa was more P-demanding than the other species, producing little biomass and no rhizobial nodules at low P. It also exhibited greater plasticity than the other species in both root mass fraction and ratio of longest root length to root mass. We conclude that anthropogenic P enrichment enabled A. fruticosa to invade what was originally a very oligotrophic environment. This N2-fixing shrub exhibits greater phenotypic plasticity than native S. eleagnos, giving it a competitive advantage under conditions of high P availability.

Keywords: nitrogen-fixing shrub, alien invasive plant, seed production, amorpha fruticosa, salix eleagnos, buddleija davidii

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