Invasive and native tall forms of Spartina alterniflora respond differently to nitrogen availability
The objective of this study was to compare various plant traits of native and invasive conspecifics of the tall form of Spartina alterniflora to test the genetic shift hypothesis, which predicts that due to genetic differences invasive plants may have different performance. We conducted a controlled experiment with six populations of the tall form of S. alterniflora: three transported from its introduced range in Jiangsu Province, China, and three from its native range in Georgia, USA. Plants were grown in a greenhouse and subjected to one of two levels of nitrogen availability for several months. Growth, biomass accumulation, biomass allocation, and photosynthetic and morphological traits, as well as the corresponding trait plasticities, were measured and compared between the populations. Nitrogen addition significantly affected individual traits of both invasive Jiangsu and native Georgia S. alterniflora populations, with invasive populations having stronger responses to nitrogen addition in RGR, total biomass, total leaf number (TLN), total leaf area (TLA) and maximum culm height (MxCH) than native populations according to the results of both reaction norms and the relative distance plasticity index (RDPI). Invasive S. alterniflora was more vigorous than its native conspecific as shown by greater total biomass and higher light-saturated photosynthetic rate (Pmax). Several morphological traits (MxCH, TLN and LAR) and most of the biomass allocation traits of invasive populations were found to differ from native populations. Our results indicated probable genetic shifts in plant traits in the introduced populations relative to the native populations of the tall form of S. alterniflora. Such genetic shifts may play a vital role in their success as invasive plants.