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Effects of leaf litter on inter-specific competitive ability of the invasive plant Wedelia trilobata

ABSTRACT

Allelochemicals released by invasive plants contribute to the successful invasion of new habitats. However, the relationship between allelopathic effects and competitive ability of invasive plants has not been characterized. We quantified the neighbor effects of Wedelia trilobata (family: Asteraceae) and the allelopathic effects of its leaf litter on two Asteraceae competitor species (invasive Eupatorium catarium and non-invasive Lactuca sativa) and on its own ramet growth. The seed germination rate and seedling biomass of the two competitor species decreased following treatment with W. trilobata leaf extracts. When co-cultured with W. trilobata, the total biomass of the two competitor species significantly decreased regardless of whether leaf extracts were present. Under low plant density co-culture conditions, W. trilobata leaf extracts enhanced the inhibitory effects on E. catarium. In contrast, W. trilobata leaf extracts promoted the growth of W. trilobata adventitious roots, resulting in increased competitive ability. Therefore, W. trilobata growth was promoted by its own allelochemicals in leaf extracts, whereas the growth of the invasive and non-invasive competitors was inhibited by the same chemicals. These responses facilitated the invasion by W. trilobata. Our study demonstrates that leaf litter of invasive plants may inhibit the growth of neighboring species to enhance the competitive ability of the invasive plants during the early stages of invasion.