A field experimental study on the impact of Acer platanoides, an urban tree invader, on forest ecosystem processes in North America.
Background: Invasive species affect community dynamics and ecosystem functions, but the mechanisms of their impacts are poorly understood. Hypotheses on invasion impact range from Superior Competitor to Novel Function, from Enemy Escape to Microbial Mediation. In this study, we examined the effects of an urban tree invader, Acer platanoides (Norway maple, NM), on a mesic deciduous forest in contrast to its native congener Acer rubrum (red maple, RM) with a split-plot design experiment. A total of 720 maple seedlings were transplanted to 72 plots under 24 trees of three canopy types. The three experimental treatments were removal of resource competition at above- and belowground and removal of leaf-litter effect. Soil moisture and nitrogen-related microbial activities were followed for each plot. Results: We found that partial canopy removal increased canopy openness and light transmission to the forest floor, but to a greater extent under NM than under RM trees. NM seedlings were more shade tolerant than RM seedlings in height growth. During the reciprocal transplantation in the mixed forest, biomass accumulation of NM seedlings under RM trees were twice as much as under NM, while that of RM seedlings under NM trees was 23.5% less than under RM. Soil net nitrification and relative nitrification were significantly higher, but mineralization rate was much lower under NM than under RM trees, which would lead to faster N leaching and lower N availability in the soil. Plots with litter removal had significantly higher seedling mortality due to herbivory by the end of 2 years, especially for NM seedlings under NM trees. Trenching enhanced soil water availability but there was no difference among canopy types. Conclusions: Our results demonstrated that invasion of NM not only altered forest canopy structure but also changed herbivory rate for seedlings and N dynamics in the soils. NM seedlings were more shade tolerant under NM canopies than RM seedlings and were more protected by NM litter under NM canopies than under RM canopies. These altered biotic and abiotic environments will likely facilitate further invasion of NM in the forests, hence positive feedbacks, and make it an increasingly serious tree invader in North America.