Nitrogen and phosphorus influence Acacia saligna invasiveness in the fynbos biome
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This study attempts to understand how invasive legumes such as Acacia saligna may compete with indigenous legumes such as Virgilia divaricata. The two species are trees with similar growth forms. We studied the competitive ability of invasive and indigenous seedlings under variations in soil phosphorus availability. South African fynbos vegetation is threatened by invasive Acacia. The indigenous tree legume, Virgilia, grows in similar phosphorus soil conditions as Acacia although there is a gap in the knowledge of their physiology. We investigated the utilization of different inorganic P sources by the invasive A. saligna and the native V. divaricata in the presence and absence of root nodules in each species. Plant performance in terms of photosynthesis and biomass production was also analysed. Plants were cultivated in silica sand supplied with Long Ashton nutrient solution, modified to contain either 50 mu M P or 500 mu M P applied as NaH2PO4 center dot 2H(2)O. Rate of growth was estimated as the increase in mass in plants harvested after 4 and 8 weeks of growth. After 4 weeks of growth, the seedlings of Virgilia grew quicker and produced more biomass than Acacia, under both phosphorus conditions. However, this was reversed after 8 weeks of growth, with Acacia out-competing Virgilia. Increased growth of the invasive legumes was achieved by relying on soil nitrogen under high phosphorus conditions and shifting to atmospheric sources under lower phosphorus levels. The strategies of altering photosynthetic carbon balance and nitrogen acquisition under varying soil phosphorus conditions potentially underpin the invasive potential of Acacia in fynbos soils.
- RESEARCH: Esler K