A native parasitic plant affects the performance of an introduced host regardless of environmental variation across field sites.
Increasing evidence from glasshouse studies shows that native hemiparasitic plants can significantly impact the performance and growth of introduced host plants. We investigated the effect of the native Australian hemiparasite Cassytha pubescens R.Br. on the introduced shrub Ulex europaeus L. at three field sites in South Australia. Parasite infection significantly decreased midday PSII efficiency (ΦPSII) and the maximum electron transport rates (ETRmax) of U. europaeus across sites. The impact of C. pubescens on the photosynthetic performance of U. europaeus may have been caused by infected plants having significantly lower N and K, but higher Fe and Al than uninfected plants at all sites. Significant Al and Fe enrichment in infected plants may be possibly due to the parasite indirectly inducing rhizosphere acidification. At two sites, C. pubescens significantly affected host Fv/Fm, indicating chronic photoinhibition in response to infection. The impact of infection on Fv/Fm was greatest at the wettest site, in line with an experiment where C. pubescens had more impact under high water availability. At this site, infected plants also had the highest foliar Fe and Al. The C isotope (δ13C) of infected plants was significantly lower than that of uninfected plants at only one site. Unusually, the δ13C of the parasite was the same as or significantly higher than that of the hosts. There were no site effects on parasite Fv/Fm or ΦPSII; however, ETRmax and δ13C varied across sites. The results suggest that this native parasite has negative effects on U. europaeus in the field, as was found for glasshouse studies. The abundance of this introduced weed in Australia could be negatively affected by C. pubescens infection.