Litter mixture dominated by leaf litter of the invasive species, Flaveria bidentis, accelerates decomposition and favors nitrogen release.
In natural ecosystems, invasive plant litter is often mixed with that of native species, yet few studies have examined the decomposition dynamics of such mixtures, especially across different degrees of invasion. We conducted a 1-year litterbag experiment using leaf litters from the invasive species Flaveria bidentis (L.) and the dominant co-occurring native species, Setaria viridis (L.). Litters were allowed to decompose either separately or together at different ratios in a mothproof screen house. The mass loss of all litter mixtures was non-additive, and the direction and strength of effects varied with species ratio and decomposition stage. During the initial stages of decomposition, all mixtures had a neutral effect on the mass loss; however, at later stages of decomposition, mixtures containing more invasive litter had synergistic effects on mass loss. Importantly, an increase in F. bidentis litter with a lower C:N ratio in mixtures led to greater net release of N over time. These results highlight the importance of trait dissimilarity in determining the decomposition rates of litter mixtures and suggest that F. bidentis could further synchronize N release from litter as an invasion proceeds, potentially creating a positive feedback linked through invasion as the invader outcompetes the natives for nutrients. Our findings also demonstrate the importance of species composition as well as the identity of dominant species when considering how changes in plant community structure influence plant invasion.