The competitive superiority of invasive plants plays a key role in the process of plant invasions, enabling invasive plants to overcome the resistance of local plant communities. Fast aboveground growth and high densities lead to the competitive superiority of invasive species in the competition for light. However, little is understood of the role belowground root competition may play in invasion. We conducted an experiment to test the effect of root growth on the performance of an invasive shrub Cassia alata, a naturalized, non-invasive shrub Corchorus capsularis, and a native shrub Desmodium reticulatum. We compared seedling growth of the three species and their competitive ability in situ. The roots of the C. alata seedlings grew much faster than those of C. capsularis and D. reticulatum during the entire growth period although C. alata had shorter shoots than D. reticulatum. Furthermore, C. alata showed an apparent competition advantage compared to the other two species as evidenced by less biomass reduction in intraspecific competition and higher competitive effects in interspecific competition. Our study reveals that fast seedling root growth may be important in explaining the competitive advantages of invasive plants. Future studies should pay more attention to the belowground traits of invasive plants, the trade-off between shoot and root growth, and the role of root competition in affecting the population dynamics of invasive plants and the structures of invaded communities.
Biological Invasions – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 17, 2018
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