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Aquatic Botany

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Physiological integration among ramets of invasive plant species may support their colonization and spread in novel aquatic environments where growth-limiting resources are spatially heterogeneous. Under contrasting light conditions, we investigated how clonal integration influences growth, biomass allocation and morphology of Ludwigia hexapetala, an emergent floating-leaved macrophyte that is highly invasive in a range of wetland habitat types. In aquatic mesocosms, stolons of offspring ramets were either connected or severed from parent plants, with the pairs exposed to homogenous or heterogeneous combinations of sun or 85% shade. Morphological traits of all ramets were strongly influenced by light environment, and low light availability decreased plant growth, regardless of integration status. Allocation patterns varied with light regime; shaded plants increased allocation to leaf biomass while sun plants allocated more resources to belowground growth. Offspring ramets integrated with parents produced more biomass, suggesting a fitness advantage through integration. However, parent ramet performance declined with stoloniferous integration; integrated parents produced fewer ramets and allocated more resources to belowground biomass. For most response variables measured, there was no significant interactive effect between light treatment and integration, although parents growing in the shade attached to an offspring in the sun increased root mass ratio. The ability to establish and spread into new environments is a key trait of invasive plants, and physiological integration of resources may improve the establishment of juvenile ramets across variable light environments during early colonization. Physiological integration in patchy light environments may contribute to the invasiveness of Ludwigia hexapetala.