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Understanding the functional traits that allow invasives to outperform natives is a necessary first step in improving our ability to predict and manage the spread of invaders. In nutrient-limited systems, plant competitive ability is expected to be closely tied to the ability of a plant to exploit nutrient-rich microsites and use these captured nutrients efficiently. The broad objective of this work was to compare the ability of native and invasive perennial forbs to acquire and use nutrients from nutrient-rich microsites. We evaluated morphological and physiological responses among four native and four invasive species exposed to heterogeneous (patch) or homogeneous (control) nutrient distribution. Invasives, on average, allocated more biomass to roots and allocated proportionately more root length to nutrient-rich microsites than did natives. Invasives also had higher leaf N, photosynthetic rates, and photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency than natives, regardless of treatment. While these results suggest multiple traits may contribute to the success of invasive forbs in low-nutrient environments, we also observed large variation in these traits among native forbs. These observations support the idea that functional trait variation in the plant community may be a better predictor of invasion resistance than the functional group composition of the plant community.


Drenovsky, R.E., Martin, C.E., Falasco, M.R. James, J.J. Variation in Resource Acquisition and Utilization Traits Between Native and Invasive Perennial Forbs. American Journal of Botany. 2008;95(6):681-687.

Original published version is available at: PubMed.