Biotic Interaction of Invasive, Early-Succession Trees and Their Effects on Community Diversity: a Multi-Scale Study Using the Exotic Invasive Ailanthus altissima and the Native Robinia pseudoacacia in the Mid-Appalachian Forest of Eastern United Sta
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Invasive plants can displace native species, deteriorate native forest, and change plant communities and ecosystem functions. Native plant populations are fundamentally impacted by invasive species because of the interactions between invasive species and native plants. This study focuses on understanding the extent, mechanisms and consequences of interaction between a non-indigenous invader Ailanthus altissima and its functionally similar native species Robinia pseudoacacia in the Mid-Appalachian region, from an individual scale to a regional scale. These two subject species are common and coexist in early-successional eastern deciduous forest. The interactions between these two common species are important to community structure and canopy tree regeneration. To address the type and extent of interactions of these two species, a greenhouse experiment utilizing various species proportions, nutrient levels and seed sources was performed. In addition, a common-garden experiment with various species densities and proportions over three consecutive growing seasons was performed in a more natural condition than that of the greenhouse experiment. We found at the seedling stage, the dominant interaction was competition, and R. pseudoacacia was the winner both above- and belowground. The allelopathic compounds of A. altissima may have inhibited nodulation of R. pseudoacacia. Ailanthus altissima seedlings from its native region had slightly stronger competitive abilities compared with the seedlings from its invaded range. In the common garden experiment, R. pseudoacacia plants grew quicker than A. altissima, but A. altissima inhibited the growth of R. pseudoacacia by interspecific competition. The negative impact of A. altissima on R. pseudoacacia became larger as time progressed. To assess the community-level consequences of the two species, we conducted a forest mapping and a complete target-tree-based forest survey, and analyzed regional-scale data from the Forest Inventory Analysis Data Base. The two target species were significantly associated with themselves and with each other. Community species composition and diversity were significantly different across sites. A negative impact of both species on the understory community diversity and tree regeneration at the neighborhood scale was detected; while at a regional level, tree diversity in the FIA plots with either A. altissima or R. pseudoacacia was higher than the reference plots.
- Doctoral Dissertations