Tree-ring stable isotopes show different ecophysiological strategies in native and invasive woody species of a semiarid riparian ecosystem in the Great Plains of the United States.
Persistent shifts in riparian vegetation associated with the invasion of introduced Elaeagnus angustifolia and native nonriparian Juniperus virginiana have been reported in the U.S. Great Plains, with significant impacts on ecosystem services. In Nebraska, these species have been expanding into the native Populus deltoides riparian forests along the Republican River. Using dendrochronological data and stable isotope ratios, we examined the annual growth and acclimation strategies of these three species to climatic and streamflow variability. We hypothesized that the ability of invasive species to grow under a wide range of environmental conditions favour vegetation shifts at the expense of native species. Streamflow was the strongest predictor for performance. When accompanied with above-average annual precipitation, streamflow resulted in peak tree-ring widths in P. deltoides. J. virginiana showed less sensitivity, and E. angustifolia showed no response. δ18O values did not differ among species, which indicates that all species compete for the same water source. δ13C ratios and WUEi were higher in J. virginiana than in P. deltoides and E. angustifolia and increased in all species over time. E. angustifolia and P. deltoides exhibit a strong stomatal control and response to relative humidity relative to J. virginiana, which showed anisohydric stomatal behaviour. Our results show that once established, J. virginiana and E. angustifolia thrive in the understory of P. deltoides using different adaptive and acclimation strategies. Based on current water flow management, which prevents high-flood pulses through the riparian zone, these species will continue to establish and spread throughout the Republican River watershed.