Comparison of decay rates between native and non-native wood species in invaded forests of the southeastern U.S.: a rapid assessment.
Invasive plants have the potential to affect decomposition both directly, by introducing novel substrates that may differ from native species in key structural or chemical properties, and indirectly through changes to soil properties and microbial communities. The relative importance of these two mechanisms is unclear, especially with regard to wood decomposition. To explore these questions, we used a novel method to rapidly assess the wood decay rates of 11 native and 11 invasive non-native angiosperm species. The study was repeated at three pairs of sites, each consisting of an invaded and a relatively uninvaded forest. The invaded sites had either been colonized by a non-native grass (Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus), a non-native woody shrub (Ligustrum sinense Lour.) or by multiple invasive species. After one year in the field, mass loss varied more than two-fold among the 22 wood species (24.2-52.3%). Wood origin (i.e., native or non-native) was only important at the Microstegium sites, with non-native species decomposing marginally faster than native species. Wood decomposed faster at both the Ligustrum-invaded and multiply-invaded sites than in their respective uninvaded sites but there were no differences between sites invaded or not by Microstegium. We detected positive relationships overall between mass loss and pH, K, P and NO3-, but invasion had no consistent effects on these soil properties. The results from this study show that the differences in wood decay rates between native and non-native species and the effects of invasion are highly idiosyncratic, with effects depending greatly on species and ecological context.