Ecophysiological differentiation between two invasive species of Carpobrotus competing under different nutrient conditions.
Premise: Hybridization between the South African invasive species Carpobrotus edulis and C. acinaciformis in Europe has led to the formation of highly aggressive morphotypes referred to in the scientific literature as the new large "hybrid swarm" C. aff. acinaciformis. In the present study, we aimed to determine whether the taxonomic differentiation between taxa coincides with ecophysiological differentiation. With this aim, we tested for differences between both morphotypes in functional traits related to competitive ability and resource-use efficiency. Assuming that the complex hybrid C. aff. acinaciformis is more vigorous, depends more strongly on vegetative reproduction, and invests less in sexual reproduction than C. edulis, we predicted that the hybrid would show higher competitive ability and better physiological performance compared with the species. Methods: We used a comparative ecophysiological approach to assess the extent to which two Carpobrotus morphotypes coexisting in northwestern Spain differ in physiological, reproductive, and growth traits when competing under different soil nutrients in controlled greenhouse conditions. Results: C. aff. acinaciformis had a greater relative growth rate and water-use and photochemical efficiencies compared to C. edulis. However, C. edulis appeared to be more responsive to incremental change in soil nutrients than C. aff. acinaciformis. They also differed in the amount of resources invested in reproduction. Conclusions: The study findings demonstrate that the taxonomic differentiation between taxa corresponds to ecophysiological differentiation, warranting a detailed examination of all existing trades-offs to predict the long-term outcomes of the interaction between these taxa.