Clonal integration enhances performance of an invasive grass.
While many clonal plants are highly successful invaders, the contribution of clonal integration (i.e. the translocation of resources among ramets) to invasion is often unknown. We used model simulations to ask if clonal integration would facilitate photosynthate translocation, if the performance of daughter ramets might be enhanced by clonal integration, and if shaded ramets benefited relatively more from transferred photosynthate. Then, to test if photosynthate translocation augmented performance of emerging daughter ramets for a globally invasive grass (Imperata cylindrica), we combined a 13CO2 pulse-chase experiment with a greenhouse experiment manipulating light levels and rhizome attachment. We found that acropetal photosynthate transfer occurred between all sampled parent-daughter ramet pairs and that this resource sharing led to higher biomass and tiller production when rhizomes between parent and daughter ramets were intact. We also found that the benefits of integration to recipient clones outweighed the costs to donors, since there was no reduction in parent plant performance due to sharing. Additionally, our data analyses show that photosynthate transfer was likely of greater benefit in overcoming growth constraints in shade than in full sun (posterior probability ~96.5%), a result that is further supported by our numerical simulations from a basic growth model. Thus, resource sharing among clonal plants may be a critical but underappreciated trait of invasive species. More generally, photosynthate transfer is a probable mechanism that explains why clonal integration can be particularly beneficial in heterogeneous resource environments.