High resource-capture and -use efficiency, and effective antioxidant protection contribute to the invasiveness of Alnus formosana plants.
To investigate the traits contributing to the invasiveness of Alnus formosana and the mechanisms underlying its invasiveness, we compared A. formosana with its native congener (Alnus cremastogyne) under three light treatments (13%, 56%, and 100%). The consistently higher plant height, total leaf area, light-saturated photosynthetic rate (Amax), light saturation point (LSP), light compensation point (LCP), respiration efficiency (RE), and non-photochemical quenching coefficient (NPQ) but lower root mass fraction (RMF) and specific leaf area (SLA) of the invader than of its native congener contributed to the higher RGR and total biomass of A. formosana across light regimes. The total biomass and RGR of the invader increased markedly with increased RMF, Amax, LSP, LCP, RE, stomatal conductance (Gs) and total leaf area. Furthermore, compared with the native species, the higher plasticity index in plant height, RMF, leaf mass fraction (LMF), SMF, SLA, Amax and dark respiration rate (Rd) within the range of total light contributed to the higher performance of the invader. In addition, the activities of antioxidant enzymes were higher in the invader compared to the native, contributing to its invasion success under high/low light via photoprotection. With a decrease in light level, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) activities increased significantly, whereas total carotenoid (Car) and total chlorophyll (Chl) decreased; ascorbate peroxidase (APX) and glutathione reductase (GR) activities remained unchanged. These responses may help the invader to spread and invade a wide range of habitats and form dense monocultures, displacing native plant species. The results suggest that both resource capture-related traits (morphological and photosynthetic) and adaptation-related traits (antioxidant protection) contribute to the competitive advantage of the invader.