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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Development of a Decision-support System for the Ecologically-based Management of Cheatgrass- and Medusahead-infested Rangeland

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Trait convergence and plasticity among native and invasive species in resource-poor environments)

item Drenovsky, Rebecca
item Khasanova, Albina
item James, Jeremy

Submitted to: American Journal of Botany
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/18/2012
Publication Date: 3/20/2012
Publication URL:
Citation: Drenovsky, R.E., Khasanova, A., James, J.J. 2012. Trait convergence and plasticity among native and invasive species in resource-poor environments. American Journal of Botany. 99:639-639.

Interpretive Summary: The ability of native plants to resist the establishment of invasive plants is thought to depend on how species acquire, conserve and utilizes resources to support growth. In a greenhouse study we evaluated the degree to which soil water and nitrogen stress influenced resource capture, conservation and growth of dominant native and invasive species. We found that native and invasive species responded similarly to changes in resource availability. This suggests that factors other than plant physiological traits, such as seed production and dispersal, may be major drivers of invasion. Management of seed production and dispersal processes may have a larger impact on invasive species spread than the particular species composition of the resident plant community.

Technical Abstract: Functional trait comparisons provide a framework with which to assess invasibility and invasion resistance. Recent research and meta-analyses have produced equivocal results, finding evidence for both trait convergence and trait divergence among coexisting dominant native and invasive species. Research to date lacks information about how multiple stresses may constrain trait values and plasticity and no studies include direct measurements on nutrient conservation traits, which are critical to plants growing in low resource environments. We evaluated the effects of low nutrient and water stress on the growth and allocation, water potential and gas exchange, and nitrogen (N) allocation and use traits of six co-dominant grass species from the Intermountain West of the United States to determine trait values and plasticity. In the greenhouse, we grew our six species under a full factorial combination of high and low N and well-watered and drought conditions. We measured relative growth rate (RGR) and its components, total biomass, biomass allocation, midday water potential, photosynthetic rate, water use efficiency (WUE), green leaf N, senesced leaf N, total N pools, N productivity (NP), and photosynthetic N use efficiency (PNUE). Overall, soil water availability constrained plant responses to N availability and was the major driver of plant traits in our analysis. Drought decreased plant biomass and RGR, limited N conservation, and led to increased WUE. For most traits, native and non-native species were similarly plastic. Conclusions: Our data suggest biomass dominants may converge on functionally similar traits and that biomass dominants, including invasive species, may demonstrate comparable ability to respond to changes in resource availability.

Last Modified: 05/25/2017
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