Eco-evolutionary litter feedback as a driver of exotic plant invasion

Eppinga, Maarten B
Molofsky, Jane
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Publication Year: 
Many studies have examined positive feedbacks between invasive plant traits and nutrient cycling, but few have investigated whether feedbacks arise from introduction of pre-adapted species or from eco-evolutionary feedback that develops after introduction. Eco-evolutionary feedback could occur between an invader's leaf tissue C:N ratio and its response to litter accumulation. Previous modeling predicts that occurrence of this feedback would be reflected by: (1) field data showing higher litter:biomass ratios in the invasive range; (2) high C:N genotypes benefiting more from experimental litter additions than low C:N genotypes; (3) this beneficial effect on high C:N genotypes inducing a critical transition toward invader dominance when a critical amount of litter is added to a native species-dominated community experiencing low nutrient conditions. Here, we empirically tested these predictions for the invasive grass Phalaris arundinacea, which has undergone post-introduction evolutionary change toward attaining higher C:N ratios under high nutrient conditions. We performed a biogeographical comparison of litter:biomass ratios in the native (Europe) and invasive (USA) range, and an experiment with mesocosms from the invasive range under low nutrient conditions. Low and high C:N Phalaris genotypes were introduced into native-dominated and bare mesocosms, to which varying litter amounts were added. The biogeographical comparison revealed that litter:biomass ratios were higher in the invasive range. The mesocosm experiment showed that when grown in isolation, only high C:N genotypes responded positively to litter. This effect, however, was not strong enough to stimulate Phalaris when exposed to competition with native species. Our results suggest that eco-evolutionary feedback between Phalaris" C:N ratio and litter accumulation could occur, but only under high nutrient conditions. Our experiments suggest that eco-evolutionary feedback may select for specialist rather than superior genotypes. Hence, genotypic variation induced by post-introduction admixture may be subject to context-dependent selection due to eco-evolutionary feedback, increasing trait variation within invasive populations.
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Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
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Grassland Society of Southern Africa

The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) is involved and concerned with the science and practice of range and pasture management. This broad field involves primarily the use and conservation of natural resources. It encompasses applied fields such as livestock production, wildlife management, nature conservation, water catchment management and range and mine-dump rehabilitation. The disciplines include, amongst others, ecology, botany zoology, range and pasture science, animal science, soil science and genetics. This collection includes journal articles from the African Journal of Range and Forage Science as well as related articles and reports from throughout the Southern African region.