Question: Invasive alien plants can affect biomass production and rates of biogeochemical cycling. Do the direction and intensity of such effects depend upon the functional traits of native and alien species and upon the properties of the invaded habitat, with the same alien species having differing impacts in different habitats?
Location: Lowlands of Switzerland.
Methods: Fourteen grassland and wetland sites invaded by Solidago gigantea and widely differing in biomass production and soil P availability were surveyed. To determine whether the impact of the species was related to site fertility, we compared the invaded and native vegetation in terms of biomass, species composition, plant traits and soil properties.
Results: S. gigantea generally increased the above-ground biomass production of the vegetation and soil C content, while reducing nutrient concentrations in biomass and N availability in the soil. However, it had no significant effect on plant species richness, soil respiration, soil pH and P availability. Leaves of S. gigantea had a greater C content than those of native species; other leaf traits and root phosphatase activity did not differ significantly.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that a conservative nutrient-use strategy allows S. gigantea to invade a broad range of habitats. The observed effects of invasion did not vary according to biomass production of the invaded sites, but some effects did depend on soil P availability, being more pronounced at more P-rich sites. Thus, the full range of invaded habitats should be considered in studying the potential impact of plant invasions on ecosystem processes.