Letter

Nature 446, 1079-1081 (26 April 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05719; Received 16 January 2007; Accepted 27 February 2007

Resource-use efficiency and plant invasion in low-resource systems

Jennifer L. Funk1 & Peter M. Vitousek1

  1. Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-5020, USA

Correspondence to: Jennifer L. Funk1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.L.F. (Email: funk@stanford.edu).

No species can maximize growth, reproduction and competitive ability across all environments, so the success of invasive species is habitat-dependent. Nutrient-rich habitats often experience more invasion than resource-poor habitats1, 2, 3, 4, a pattern consistent with traits generally associated with successful invaders (high growth rates, early reproduction and many offspring5, 6, 7, 8). However, invaders do colonize resource-poor environments, and the mechanisms that allow their success in these systems are poorly understood. Traits associated with resource conservation are widespread among species adapted to resource-poor environments9, 10, 11, and invasive species may succeed in low-resource environments by employing resource conservation traits such as high resource-use efficiency (RUE; carbon assimilation per unit of resource). We investigated RUE in invasive and native species from three habitats in Hawaii where light, water or nutrient availability was limiting to plant growth. Here we show that across multiple growth forms and broad taxonomic diversity invasive species were generally more efficient than native species at using limiting resources on short timescales and were similarly efficient when RUE measures were integrated over leaf lifespans. Our data challenge the idea that native species generally outperform invasive species under conditions of low resource availability3, and suggest that managing resource levels is not always an effective strategy for invasive species control.

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