• biological invasions;
  • comparative ecophysiology;
  • functional traits;
  • leaf economics spectrum;
  • North American shrubs;
  • plant ecological strategies;
  • resource-use efficiency


  • Studies in disturbed, resource-rich environments often show that invasive plants are more productive than co-occurring natives, but with similar physiological tradeoffs. However, in resource-limited habitats, it is unclear whether native and invasive plants have similar metabolic constraints or if invasive plants are more productive per unit resource cost – that is, use resources more efficiently.
  • Using a common garden to control for environment, we compared leaf physiological traits relating to resource investments, carbon returns, and resource-use efficiencies in 14 native and 18 nonnative invasive species of common genera found in Eastern North American (ENA) deciduous forest understories, where growth is constrained by light and nutrient limitation.
  • Despite greater leaf construction and nitrogen costs, invaders exhibited greater instantaneous photosynthetic energy-use efficiency (PEUE) and marginally greater photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency (PNUE). When integrated over leaf lifespan (LL), these differences were magnified. Differences in efficiency were driven by greater productivity per unit leaf investment, as invaders exhibited both greater photosynthetic abilities and longer LL.
  • Our results indicate that woody understory invaders in ENA forests are not constrained to the same degree by leaf-based metabolic tradeoffs as the native understory flora. These strategy differences could be attributable to pre-adaptation in the native range, although other explanations are possible.