Salt tolerance traits increase the invasive success of Acacia longifolia in Portuguese coastal dunes.
Salt tolerance of two co-occurring legumes in coastal areas of Portugal, a native species - Ulex europaeus, and an invasive species - Acacia longifolia, was evaluated in relation to plant growth, ion content and antioxidant enzyme activities. Plants were submitted to four concentrations of NaCl (0, 50, 100 and 200 mM) for three months, under controlled conditions. The results showed that NaCl affects the growth of both species in different ways. Salt stress significantly reduced the plant height and the dry weight in Acacia longifolia whereas in U. europaeus the effect was not significant. Under salt stress, the root:shoot ratio (WR:WS) and root mass ratio (WR:WRS) increased as a result of increasing salinity in A. longifolia but the same was not observed in U. europaeus. In addition, salt stress caused a significant accumulation of Na+, especially in U. europaeus, and a decrease in K+ content and K+/Na+ ratio. The activities of antioxidant enzymes were higher in A. longifolia compared to U. europaeus. In A. longifolia, catalase (CAT, EC 220.127.116.11) and glutathione reductase (GR, EC 18.104.22.168.) activities increased significantly, while ascorbate peroxidase (APX, EC 22.214.171.124) and peroxidase (POX, EC 126.96.36.199) activities remained unchanged in comparison with the control. In U. europaeus, NaCl concentration significantly reduced APX activity but did not significantly affect CAT, GR and POX activities. Our results suggest that the invasive species copes better with salinity stress in part due to a higher rates of CAT and GR activities and a higher K+/Na+ ratio, which may represent an additional advantage when competing with native species in co-occurring salty habitats.