Foliar nitrogen dynamics of an invasive legume compared to native non-legumes in fynbos riparian zones varying in water availability
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The legume Acacia mearnsii invades South Africa’s fynbos riparian zones and may alter the nitrogen (N) dynamics and supply in these areas that typically support few native N fixers. Nitrogen uptake by A. mearnsii may also be influenced by water availability, potentially affecting riparian-specific performance and impact estimations. We expected to find functional differences between the invasive legume and the two co-occurring but non-leguminous native species Brabejum stellatifolium and Metrosideros angustifolia. We also wanted to examine whether in-situ water availability affected N source or uptake in the invasive species. We found A. mearnsii was indeed functioning differently from non-N-fixing native species, and had considerably higher foliar %N. Interestingly, 15N abundance and uptake were associated with site hydrology, meaning water availability should be scrutinised when assuming N-fixing in A. mearnsii using δ15N. Nonetheless, higher water availability to A. mearnsii in fynbos riparian ecosystems did increase foliar N uptake. This has implications for prioritizing clearing of sites with increased nutrient deposition, such as dense stands in relatively moist riparian zones.
- RESEARCH: Esler K