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


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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Figure 1: Photosynthetic rates and light-use efficiency (apparent quantum yield) for 19 phylogenetically related pairs of invasive and native plant species from three habitats in Hawaii.
Figure 2: Instantaneous and time-integrated measures of nitrogen-, energy- and water-use efficiency for phylogenetically related pairs of invasive and native plant species from three habitats in Hawaii.


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We thank L. Pratt, T. Tunison, B. Ostertag, D. Benitez, H. Farrington, R. Schneider, D. Turner and C. Harvey for field and laboratory support; D. Sandquist, Z. Cardon and the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry for equipment loan; C. Field and the Vitousek laboratory for discussion; and M. Gessner and C. Lunch for comments on the manuscript. We also thank the Hawaii Department of Fish and Wildlife for access to sites. This research was made possible through the National Parks Ecological Research Fellowship Program, a partnership between the National Park Service, the Ecological Society of America and the National Park Foundation. It was funded through a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Funk.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Tables 1 and 2 and the Supplementary Methods. Supplementary Table 1 contains the species measured in the study, including the resource most limiting to productivity, life form, and origin of the invasive species. Supplementary Table 2 contains the data used for resource use efficiency calculations. The Supplementary Methods contain the derivation of resource use efficiency measures. (PDF 497 kb)

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Funk, J., Vitousek, P. Resource-use efficiency and plant invasion in low-resource systems. Nature 446, 1079–1081 (2007).

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