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A greater foraging scale, not a higher foraging precision, may facilitate invasion by exotic plants in nutrient-heterogeneous conditions

Chen, Bao-Ming, Su, Jin-Quan, Liao, Hui-Xuan, Peng, Shao-Lin
Annals of botany 2018 v.121 no.3 pp. 561-569
Bidens pilosa, Cyanthillium cinereum, Mikania micrantha, Paederia foetida, biomass, ecological invasion, foraging, greenhouses, indigenous species, introduced plants, invasive species, soil heterogeneity, soil nutrients, strontium
Soil nutrient heterogeneity has been proposed to influence competitive outcomes among different plant species. Thus, it is crucial to understand the effects of environmental heterogeneity on competition between exotic invasive and native species. However, the effects of soil nutrient heterogeneity on the competition between invasive and native plants have rarely been linked to root foraging behaviour. In this study, a competition experiment was performed with two invasive–native species pairs (BP–VC, Bidens pilosa vs. Vernonia cinerea; MM–PS, Mikania micrantha vs. Paederia scandens) grown under homogeneous and heterogeneous conditions in a common greenhouse environment. Root activity was assessed by determining the amount of strontium (Sr) taken up by the shoot of each species. The invasive species exhibited a greater foraging scale, whereas the native species exhibited a higher foraging precision. A trade-off between foraging scale and precision was observed within each pair of invasive–native species. Compared with soil homogeneity, soil heterogeneity significantly increased the biomass of the two invasive species, B. pilosa and M. micrantha, under competitive conditions. Within each pair, the invasive species exhibited greater relative competitive ability with respect to shoot mass, and considerably more Sr taken up by the invasive species compared with the native species. The Sr acquisition results indicate that nutrient-poor conditions may facilitate the competitive ability of the native species V. cinerea, whereas M. micrantha may possess a stronger competitive ability regardless of soil nutrient conditions. Soil nutrient heterogeneity has the potential to promote the invasion of these two exotic species due to their larger foraging scale, stronger competitive ability and greater root activity relative to their counterpart native species. The present work highlights the importance of soil heterogeneity in plant invasion, particularly with regards to root foraging traits and competition between invasive and native plants.