Introduced populations of an invasive tree have higher soluble sugars but lower starch and cellulose.
Native and introduced plant populations vary in leaf physiology, biochemistry, and biotic interactions. These aboveground traits may help invasive plants in competition for resources with co-occurring native species. Root physiological traits may affect invasive plant performance because of the roles of roots in resource absorption. The aim of this study was to test this prediction, using invasive Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera), as a model species. Here we examined carbohydrate (soluble sugar, sucrose, fructose, starch, and cellulose) concentrations and the mass of roots, stems, and leaves, along with root water potential and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) colonization of soil-cultured T. sebifera seedlings from 10 native (China) and 10 introduced (United States) populations in a common garden. Introduced populations had a significantly greater stem and leaf mass than native populations but their root masses did not differ, so they had lower R:S. Introduced populations had higher soluble sugar concentrations but lower starch and cellulose concentrations in their leaves, stems, and roots. Introduced populations had more negative root water potentials and higher AMF colonization. Together, our results indicate that invasive plants shift their carbohydrate allocation, leading to faster growth and a greater aboveground allocation strategy. Higher AMF colonization and more negative water potential in invasive plants likely facilitate more efficient water absorption by the roots. Thus, such physiological variation in root characteristics could play a role in plant invasion success.