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Functional and performance comparisons of invasive Hieracium lepidulum and co-occurring species in New Zealand


*Present address: Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 942, Kununurra, WA 6743, Australia (Email:


Abstract  One of the key environmental factors affecting plant species abundance, including that of invasive exotics, is nutrient resource availability. Plant functional response to nutrient availability, and what this tells us about plant interactions with associated species, may therefore give us clues about underlying processes related to plant abundance and invasion. Patterns of abundance of Hieracium lepidulum, a European herbaceous invader of subalpine New Zealand, appear to be related to soil fertility/nutrient availability, however, abundance may be influenced by other factors including disturbance. In this study we compare H. lepidulum and field co-occurring species for growth performance across artificial nutrient concentration gradients, for relative competitiveness and for response to disturbance, to construct a functional profile of the species. Hieracium lepidulum was found to be significantly different in its functional response to nutrient concentration gradients. Hieracium lepidulum had high relative growth rate, high yield and root plasticity in response to nutrient concentration dilution, relatively low absolute yield, low competitive yield and a positive response to clipping disturbance relative to other species. Based on overall functional response to nutrient concentration gradients, compared with other species found at the same field sites, we hypothesize that H. lepidulum invasion is not related to competitive domination. Relatively low tolerance of nutrient dilution leads us to predict that H. lepidulum is likely to be restricted from invading low fertility sites, including sites within alpine vegetation or where intact high biomass plant communities are found. Positive response to clipping disturbance and relatively high nutrient requirement, despite poor competitive performance, leads us to predict that H. lepidulum may respond to selective grazing disturbance of associated vegetation. These results are discussed in relation to published observations of H. lepidulum in New Zealand and possible tests for the hypotheses raised here.