Alien water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes L.) outcompeted native macrophytes and altered the ecological conditions of a Sava oxbow lake (SE Slovenia).
Introduction of an invasive alien macrophyte water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes L.) radically changed the oxbow lake in Prilipe (SE Slovenia) which has thermal springs that enables the winter survival of this tropical invader. About 10 years after the first record of P. stratiotes, the number, abundance and biomass of indigenous and non-indigenous macrophytes as well as different abiotic parameters were measured. In that period, colonized sections (~94% of the oxbow lake) were completely covered with water lettuce, and the only reservoirs of indigenous macrophyte species were the non-colonized areas (6%). Research in 2011 found only a third of the previously recorded indigenous macrophytes, but then only in small section without P. stratiotes. Three of the species that disappeared were on the Red data list. In the colonized section a higher biomass was observed than in the non-colonized section because of high abundance of water lettuce which remained the only macrophyte. Due to the presence of P. stratiotes, the intensity of light penetrating into the depth and water circulation were reduced, as was the oxygen saturation of the water. In addition to the well documented vegetative propagation of P. stratiotes, a well-established and viable seed bank has been detected in the lake sediment and after winter floods also on lake banks. In the future, special attention should be given to the thermal water ecosystems in temperate climates since they can serve as stepping stones and recruitment centres for the establishment and spread of (sub-)tropical invasive species. Facing predicted climate change such local populations of invasive species can act as stepping stones for further dispersal.