The impact of a native hemiparasite on a major invasive shrub is affected by host size at time of infection.
Many studies have investigated the effect of parasitic plants on their hosts; however, few have examined how parasite impact is affected by host size. In a glasshouse experiment, we investigated the impact of the Australian native hemiparasitic vine, Cassytha pubescens, on a major invasive shrub, Ulex europaeus, of different sizes. Infected plants had significantly lower total, shoot, and root biomass, but the parasite's impact was more severe on small than on large hosts. When infected, small but not large hosts had significantly lower nodule biomass. Irrespective of size, infection significantly decreased the host shoot/root ratio, pre-dawn and midday quantum yields, maximum electron transport rates, and carbon isotope composition, and the host nodule biomass per gram of root biomass significantly increased in response to infection. Infection did not affect host foliar nitrogen concentration or midday shoot water potential. Parasite biomass was significantly lower on small relative to large hosts, but was similar when expressed on a per gram of host total biomass basis. Parasite stem nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium concentrations were significantly greater when C. pubescens was growing on small than on large hosts. Our results clearly show that C. pubescens strongly decreases performance of this major invasive shrub, especially when hosts are small. This suggests that C. pubescens could be used most effectively as a native biocontrol when deployed on smaller hosts.