Faster N release, but not C loss, from leaf litter of invasives compared to native species in Mediterranean ecosystems.
Plant invasions can have relevant impacts on biogeochemical cycles, whose extent, in Mediterranean ecosystems, have not yet been systematically assessed comparing litter carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics between invasive plants and native communities. We carried out a 1-year litterbag experiment in 4 different plant communities (grassland, sand dune, riparian and mixed forests) on 8 invasives and 24 autochthonous plant species, used as control. Plant litter was characterized for mass loss, N release, proximate lignin and litter chemistry by 13C CPMAS NMR. Native and invasive species showed significant differences in litter chemical traits, with invaders generally showing higher N concentration and lower lignin/N ratio. Mass loss data revealed no consistent differences between native and invasive species, although some woody and vine invaders showed exceptionally high decomposition rate. In contrast, N release rate from litter was faster for invasive plants compared to native species. N concentration, lignin content and relative abundance of methoxyl and N-alkyl C region from 13C CPMAS NMR spectra were the parameters that better explained mass loss and N mineralization rates. Our findings demonstrate that during litter decomposition invasive species litter has no different decomposition rates but greater N release rate compared to natives. Accordingly, invasives are expected to affect N cycle in Mediterranean plant communities, possibly promoting a shift of plant assemblages.