Seasonal dependence and functional implications of macrophyte-phytoplankton allelopathic interactions.
Invasive plant species such as Ludwigia hexapetala might have a competitive advantage if they produce allelopathically active compounds against primary producers. Both phytoplankton and plant community structure may be affected due to different, species-specific sensitivity to allelochemicals. Moreover, such allelopathic interactions could vary over the year depending on (i) the plant's phenological stage and (ii) the abilities of the native macrophytes to suppress-or the non-native macrophytes to stimulate-the non-native macrophyte population. We tested the allelopathic effects of aqueous leaf extracts of L. hexapetala on the photosynthetic activity of three target phytoplankton strains (Scenedesmus communis, a toxic Microcystis aeruginosa strain and a non-toxic Microcystis aeruginosa strain) over three seasons of development (spring, summer and autumn). We also tested seasonal allelopathic effects of aqueous leaf extracts of both L. hexapetala (i.e. the non-native invasive species) and the native Mentha aquatica on L. hexapetala seed germination. Finally, we identified three main secondary compounds present in the aqueous leaf extracts of L. hexapetala and we tested each individual compound on the phytoplankton's photosynthetic activity and on L. hexapetala seed germination. We observed marked seasonal and species-specific patterns of L. hexapetala allelopathy on phytoplankton. The photosynthetic activities of S. communis and the toxic M. aeruginosa strain were stimulated by L. hexapetala aqueous leaf extracts in autumn and spring, respectively, whereas the non-toxic M. aeruginosa strain was strongly inhibited in these two seasons. In summer, photosynthesis of all phytoplankton strains was inhibited. The germination rate of L. hexapetala seeds was stimulated by both L. hexapetala and M. aquatica aqueous leaf extracts, especially in summer, concomitant with the strong negative effects observed on the three phytoplankton strains. Three flavonoid glycosides (myricitrin, prunin and quercitrin) were identified as the main secondary compounds present in the L. hexapetala aqueous leaf extracts. The photosynthetic activity of S. communis was slightly stimulated by the three compounds. The photosynthetic activity of the toxic M. aeruginosa strain was stimulated by myricitrin and quercitrin, whereas that of the non-toxic M. aeruginosa strain was inhibited by prunin. Finally, the germination rate and the germination velocity of L. hexapetala seeds were stimulated by myricitrin and prunin. These findings suggest that L. hexapetala could favour the photosynthetic activity of toxic cyanobacteria in spring and reduce their photosynthetic activity in summer, potentially leading to drastic changes in the phytoplankton communities and therewith ecological functioning of invaded ponds. Moreover, the stimulation of its seed germination could give a strong competitive advantage to L. hexapetala, thus promoting its invasiveness.