Similar impacts of alien and native tree species on understory light availability in a temperate forest.
Background and Objectives: Foliage traits determine tree species effect on understory light availability. Direct comparisons of understory light availability due to different foliage traits of tree species are conducted less often at the stand level. We hypothesized that light availability is driven by canopy leaf area, and alien species contribution to canopy foliage will be similar to native species due to analogous patterns of biomass allocation in tree species. Materials and Methods: We studied forests dominated by alien and native tree species in Wielkopolski National Park (Western Poland). We measured light availability using the LAI-2200 canopy analyzer (Li-Cor Inc., Lincoln, NE, USA) and we calculated leaf area index (LAI) in 170 stands using published models of foliage biomass and data on specific leaf area. Results: Our study confirmed an impact of LAI on light availability in the understory layer. Analyzing the proportion of contribution to stand LAI and basal area (BA) we found that most alien species did not differ in LAI to BA ratio from native species. The exception was Prunus serotina Ehrh., with a LAI to BA ratio higher than all native and alien trees. However, the highest LAI to BA ratios we found were for the alien shrub Cotoneaster lucidus Schltdl. and native shrubs of fertile broadleaved forests. Conclusions: Our study showed that alien species contribution to shading the understory is comparable to native species, with the exception of P. serotina due to its dominance in the higher shrub canopy strata where it exhibits different patterns of biomass allocation than native trees. Our study explained that invasive tree species impact on light availability in forest ecosystems is mainly mediated by the increased quantity of foliage, not by more effective LAI to BA ratio.