Differential Influence of Clonal Integration on Morphological and Growth Responses to Light in Two Invasive Herbs
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Background and aims: In contrast to seeds, high sensitivity of vegetative fragments to unfavourable environments may limit the expansion of clonal invasive plants. However, clonal integration promotes the establishment of propagules in less suitable habitats and may facilitate the expansion of clonal invaders into intact native communities. Here, we examine the influence of clonal integration on the morphology and growth of ramets in two invasive plants, Alternanthera philoxeroides and Phyla canescens, under varying light conditions. Methods: In a greenhouse experiment, branches, connected ramets and severed ramets of the same mother plant were exposed under full sun and 85% shade and their morphological and growth responses were assessed. Key results: The influence of clonal integration on the light reaction norm (connection6light interaction) of daughter ramets was species-specific. For A. philoxeroides, clonal integration evened out the light response (total biomass, leaf mass per area, and stem number, diameter and length) displayed in severed ramets, but these connection6light interactions were largely absent for P. canescens. Nevertheless, for both species, clonal integration overwhelmed light effect in promoting the growth of juvenile ramets during early development. Also, vertical growth, as an apparent shade acclimation response, was more prevalent in severed ramets than in connected ramets. Finally, unrooted branches displayed smaller organ size and slower growth than connected ramets, but the pattern of light reaction was similar, suggesting mother plants invest in daughter ramets prior to their own branches. Conclusions: Clonal integration modifies light reaction norms of morphological and growth traits in a species-specific manner for A. philoxeroides and P. canescens, but it improves the establishment of juvenile ramets of both species in lightlimiting environments by promoting their growth during early development. This factor may be partially responsible for their ability to successfully colonize native plant communities.
© 2012 Xu et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)
Ecology not elsewhere classified