The combined effects of water and nitrogen on the relationship between a native hemiparasite and its invasive host.
Stem hemiparasites are dependent on their hosts for water and nitrogen. Most studies, however, have assessed the influence of one factor on parasite : host associations, thus limiting our mechanistic understanding of their performance in nature. We investigated the combined effects of water and nitrogen (N) availability on both a host (Ulex europaeus) and its parasite (Cassytha pubescens). Parasite infection significantly decreased host shoot biomass and shoot : root ratio more severely in high water than low water, irrespective of N supply. Parasite stem [N] was significantly higher in high water than low water treatments, regardless of N supply, but parasite biomass did not vary among treatments. Irrespective of water and N supply, infected plants had significantly lower total, root and nodule biomass, predawn and midday quantum yields, maximum electron transport rates, water potentials and nitrogen concentration [N]. Parasite δ13C was significantly higher than that of the host. Our results suggested that stem hemiparasites can better extract resources from hosts when water availability is high, resulting in a greater impact on the host under these conditions. When hemiparasitic plants are being investigated as a biocontrol for invasive weeds, they may be more effective in wetter habitats than in drier ones.