Effects of nitrogen addition on the invasive grass Phragmites australis and a native competitor Spartina pectinata


Marcia A. Rickey, Archbold Biological Station, PO Box 2057, Lake Placid, FL 33682, USA (e-mail mrickey@archbold-station.org).


  • 1Phragmites australis is an invasive grass that has increased dramatically in distribution and abundance within the USA in the last 100 years. This study determined the effect of nitrogen addition on the growth of this invasive species compared with an indigenous competitor species, Spartina pectinata.
  • 2Twenty plants from each of three Illinois (USA) populations were collected and planted in the same garden in April 2001 and grown until August 2002. Following a year of growth in the garden, high-nitrogen (45 g N m−2) and low-nitrogen (5 g N m−2) treatments were applied to plants grown from paired rhizome cuttings from each plant. A single S. pectinata plant was grown with each P. australis. In August 2002, plants were harvested and above- and below-ground biomasses were determined for both species.
  • 3Mean (± SE) P. australis above- and below-ground biomasses were significantly higher in the high-nitrogen treatment (68·4 ± 2·6 g and 39·0 ± 4·5 g, above- and below-ground, respectively) than the low-nitrogen treatment (37·3 ± 2·0 g and 25·5 ± 4·5 g). There were no differences in S. pectinata above- and below-ground biomasses between high- (46·8 ± 3·2 g and 71·4 ± 9·6 g) and low- (45·4 ± 3·5 g and 50·3 ± 6·5 g) nitrogen treatments. The ratio of P. australis to S. pectinata biomass was used to compare the relative response of each species between nitrogen treatments; the mean ratio of P. australis to S. pectinata for the high-nitrogen treatment (2·72 ± 0·499) was significantly higher than the low-nitrogen treatment (1·83 ± 0·42).
  • 4Synthesis and applications. This study supports the hypothesis that P. australis benefits from increased nitrogen, and may be more likely to displace S. pectinata in nitrogen-rich environments. Our study also confirms the importance of nitrogen in affecting the interactions between invasive and native plants. Control of P. australis may be aided by nutrient management.