Responses of common and rare aliens and natives to nutrient availability and fluctuations.
Global environmental change not only includes changes in mean environmental conditions but also in temporal environmental fluctuations. Because it is frequently suggested that common species, and particularly invasive alien species, are phenotypically highly plastic, they might benefit more from these fluctuations than rare native and rare alien species. Experimental tests, however, are still lacking. Here, we tested whether alien plant species take more advantage of increases in resource levels and fluctuations therein than native species, and whether common species do so more than rare species. Therefore, we grew seven common alien, seven rare alien, nine common native and six rare native herbaceous plants, in one treatment with constantly low nutrient availability and five treatments with high nutrient availability that differed in temporal availability of nutrients (constant, increasing, decreasing, single large pulse, multiple smaller pulses). We found that all species produced more biomass and longer roots, and had a lower root mass fraction under high nutrient conditions than under low nutrient conditions, irrespective of their origin and commonness. Among the high nutrient treatments, the temporal pattern of nutrient supply also influenced biomass production, root allocation and root thickness, but the magnitude and/or directions of these responses varied among the groups of species. Particularly, we found that alien plant species, irrespective of whether they are common or rare, produced more biomass, and had a higher root mass fraction when nutrients were supplied as a single pulse in the middle of the growth period instead of supplied at a constant rate, whereas the reverse was true for the native species. Synthesis. Our study suggests that species origin does not drive differences in plant biomass production, root morphology and allocation in response to changes in mean environmental nutrient availability. However in our study, alien plant species, in contrast to native plant species, benefited from a large nutrient pulse. This suggests that increased fluctuations in nutrient availability might promote alien plant invasions.