Plant nitrogen and phosphorus utilization under invasive pressure in a montane ecosystem of tropical China.
Exotic plant invasion has been changing the vegetation composition and function of terrestrial ecosystems. Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are often the limiting nutrients for terrestrial plants. However, under invasive pressure, in situ plant N and P usage mechanisms remain poorly understood but are pivotal for a better understanding of plant invasion and coexistence in invaded ecosystems. Nitrogen and P concentrations, natural 15N abundance (δ15N values) were investigated in leaves and soils under different invasive pressures (here expressed as the biomass percentages of invasive plants in each plot) for two invasive species (Chromolaena odorata and Ageratina adenophora) in Xishuangbanna in tropical China. Soil N and P concentrations revealed the relatively N-rich but P-poor status of our study site. Under invasion, soil inorganic N (dominated by ammonium) and available P did not increase significantly. The leaf N and P of invasive plants increased, while leaf N increased but P decreased for native species. Natural δ15N mass balance between leaves and soil inorganic N sources revealed that ammonium dominated N utilization in both natives and invaders. Invasive plants showed ammonium utilization with increasing leaf N levels, while native plants under no invasion showed nitrate utilization with increasing leaf N levels. Synthesis. Increased soil ammonium availability contributed to preferential ammonium utilization by invasive plants and elevated ammonium utilization in natives, but the P competition of natives decreased in invaded ecosystems. These novel insights into nutrient dynamics in invaded ecosystems enhance our understanding of plant invasion and coexistence mechanisms.