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Differences in growth-economics of fast vs. slow growing grass species in response to temperature and nitrogen limitation individually, and in combination.

BMC Ecology 2020 November 25
BACKGROUND: Fast growing invasive alien species are highly efficient with little investment in their tissues. They often outcompete slower growing species with severe consequences for diversity and community composition. The plant economics trait-based approach provides a theoretical framework, allowing the classification of plants with different performance characteristics. However, in multifaceted background, this approach needs testing. The evaluation and prediction of plant performance outcomes in ecologically relevant settings is among the most pressing topics to understand and predict ecosystem functioning, especially in a quickly changing environment. Temperature and nutrient availability are major components of the global environmental change and this study examines the response of growth economic traits, photosynthesis and respiration to such changes for an invasive fast-growing (Bromus hordaceus) and a slow-growing perennial (Bromus erectus) grass species.

RESULTS: The fully controlled growth chamber experiment simulated temperature-and changes in nitrogen availability individually and in combination. We therefore provide maximum control and monitoring of growth responses allowing general growth trait response patterns to be tested. Under optimal nitrogen availability the slow growing B. erectus was better able to handle the lower temperatures (7 °C) whilst both species had problems at higher temperatures (30 °C). Stresses produced by a combination of heat and nutrient availability were identified to be less limiting for the slow growing species but the combination of chilling with low nutrient availability was most detrimental to both species.

CONCLUSIONS: For the fast-growing invader B. hordeaceus a reduction of nitrogen availability in combination with a temperature increase, leads to limited growth performance in comparison to the slow-growing perennial species B.erectus and this may explain why nutrient-rich habitats often experience more invasion than resource-poor habitats.

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