Do alien plant species profit more from high resource supply than natives? A trait-based analysis
Previous studies comparing conditions of high- versus low-resource environments have pointed at differences in key traits that would allow aliens to perform better than natives under high-resource conditions. We generalize and test the robustness of this idea by exploring how trait differentiation between aliens and natives changes along continuous resource gradients.
We constructed a database of three leaf traits (specific leaf area, SLA; photosynthetic capacity, Amass; leaf nitrogen content, Nmass) that are important for carbon capturing strategies in plants. The database includes 2448 native and 961 alien species over 88 locations world-wide. Using rank correlations and mixed-effect linear models, we assessed the relations between plant traits and climatic, edaphic and human disturbance gradients. Then we determined how the differences in traits between natives and aliens changed along the same gradients.
Across all environments, aliens were found to have higher SLA, Nmass and Amass than natives. These differences were observed both globally and when controlling for co-occurrence. Also, higher average trait values were found in higher resource supply environments. However, trait differences between natives and aliens remained constant along the evaluated environmental and disturbance gradients. When compared in a multidimensional trait space defined by the leaf economics spectrum, co-occurring aliens and natives showed no between-group differences and no relation with any of the evaluated gradients.
We suggest that although increased resource availability is positively related to higher carbon capture strategies (determined via higher plant leaf trait values), these benefits remain the same for aliens and natives. Therefore, we conclude that high-resource environments do not specifically cause aliens to outperform natives with respect to carbon capture, or at least not more than in other environments.