Morphological, physiological and biochemical responses of two Australian biotypes of Parthenium hysterophorus to different soil moisture regimes.
Parthenium weed is a problematic invasive species in several countries around the world. Although it is considered to be a highly invasive species within Australia, not all biotypes of parthenium weed exhibit the same ability in regard to aggressive colonization and distribution. Differences among biotypes, particularly in regard to environmental ranges as a possible basis for this variation, have not always been elucidated. To determine whether drought tolerance could be a factor in biotype demographics, we quantified the biological responses of two Australian parthenium weed biotypes known to differ in invasive ability Clermont ("high") and Toogoolawah ("low") to 100, 75 and 50% of soil water holding capacity (WHC). The Clermont biotype had greater vegetative growth, seed production and chlorophyll content than Toogoolawah, across all moisture levels. Net photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, internal CO2 concentration, seed production per plant, 1000 seed weight and subsequent germination percentage were also higher for Clermont than for Toogoolawah and were maximum at 75% WHC. Clermont plants also had higher total soluble sugar, phenolics and free proline content than Toogoolawah, and a significant increase in the levels of all of these biochemicals was observed at 50% WHC. In conclusion, Clermont grew and reproduced better than Toogoolawah across all moisture regimes consistent of enhanced invasive ability of this biotype. Overall, the ability of parthenium weed to maintain good growth, physiology and seed production under moisture stress may enable it to colonize a wide range of Australian environments.