Mutualism-disrupting allelopathic invader drives carbon stress and vital rate decline in a forest perennial herb

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© The Authors 2014. Invasive plants can negatively affect belowground processes and alter soil microbial communities. For native plants that depend on soil resources from root fungal symbionts (RFS), invasion could compromise their resource status and subsequent ability to manufacture and store carbohydrates. Herbaceous perennials that depend on RFS-derived resources dominate eastern North American forest understories. Therefore, we predict that forest invasion by Alliaria petiolata, an allelopathic species that produces chemicals that are toxic to RFS, will diminish plant carbon storage and fitness. Over a single growing season, the loss of RFS could reduce a plant's photosynthetic physiology and carbon storage. If maintained over multiple growing seasons, this could create a condition of carbon stress and declines in plant vital rates. Here we characterize the signals of carbon stress over a short timeframe and explore the long-term consequence of Alliaria invasion using Maianthemum racemosum, an RFS-dependent forest understory perennial. First, in a greenhouse experiment, we treated the soil of potted Maianthemum with fresh leaf tissue from either Alliaria or Hesperis matronalis (control) for a single growing season. Alliaria-treated plants exhibit significant overall reductions in total non-structural carbohydrates and have 17 %less storage carbohydrates relative to controls. Second, we monitored Maianthemum vital rates in paired experimental plots where we either removed emerging Alliaria seedlings each spring or left Alliaria at ambient levels for 7 years. Where Alliaria is removed, Maianthemum size and vital rates improve significantly: flowering probability increases, while the probability of plants regressing to non-flowering stages or entering prolonged dormancy are reduced. Together, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that disruption of a ubiquitous mutualism following species invasion creates symptoms of carbon stress for species dependent on RFS. Disruption of plant-fungal mutualisms may generally contribute to the common, large-scale declines in forest biodiversity observed in the wake of allelopathic invaders.




Brouwer, N. L., Hale, A. N., & Kalisz, S. (2015). Mutualism-disrupting allelopathic invader drives carbon stress and vital rate decline in a forest perennial herb. AoB PLANTS, 7(1).

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