Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Clonal growth strategies of Reynoutria japonica in response to light, shade, and mowing, and perspectives for management.

Abstract

Many of the most invasive plant species in the world can propagate clonally, suggesting clonality offers advantages that facilitate invasion. Gaining insights into the clonal growth dynamics of invasive plants should thus improve understanding of the mechanisms of their dominance, resilience and expansion. Belonging to the shortlist of the most problematic terrestrial invaders, Reynoutria japonica var. japonica Houtt. (Japanese knotweed) has colonized all five continents, likely facilitated by its impressive ability to propagate vegetatively. However, its clonal growth patterns are surprisingly understudied; we still do not know how individuals respond to key environmental conditions, including light availability and disturbance. To contribute to filling this knowledge gap, we designed a mesocosm experiment to observe the morphological variation in R. japonica growth in homogeneous or heterogeneous conditions of light stress (shade) and disturbance (mowing). Rhizome fragments were planted in the middle of large pots between two habitat patches that consisted of either one or a combination of the following three environmental conditions: full light without mowing, full light with frequent mowing, or shade without mowing. At the end of the experiment, biomass and traits related to clonal growth (spacer and rhizome lengths, number of rhizome branches, and number of ramets) were measured. After 14 months, all individuals had survived, even those frequently mowed or growing under heavy shade. We showed that R. japonica adopts a 'phalanx' growth form when growing in full light and a 'guerrilla' form when entirely shaded. The former is characteristic of a space-occupancy strategy while the latter is more associated with a foraging strategy. In heterogeneous conditions, we also showed that clones seemed to invest preferentially more in favorable habitat patches rather than in unfavorable ones (mowed or shaded), possibly exhibiting an escape strategy. These observations could improve the management of this species, specifically by illustrating how aggressive early control measures must be, by highlighting the importance of repeated mowing of entire stands, as this plant appears to compensate readily to partial mowing, and by informing on its potential responses towards the restoration of a cover of competitive native plants.