Key characteristics for facilitating Leucaena leucocephala to successfully invade pioneer communities of tropical rain forests.
Aims: Due to fast-growing and high drought stress tolerance, Leucaena leucocephala has been widely used for afforestation in degraded tropical forests worldwide, but it is also a global invasive exotic species. Studies have shown that fast-growing can help L. leucocephala successfully invade subtropical forests. In this study, we aimed to investigate whether fast-growing and high drought stress tolerance can help L. leucocephala invade tropical rain forests. Methods: The pioneer community of tropical rain forest which had been invaded by L. leucocephala in the Baopoling Mountain, Sanya, China was the research object. Through the t-test, we compared the differences in key functional traits that were related to growth rate (photosynthesis rate, stomatal conductance and transpiration rate) and drought stress tolerance (leaf turgor loss point) in both wet and dry seasons between L. leucocephala and eight dominant native species of pioneer community of tropical rain forest. And the principal component analysis (PCA) was used to investigate whether these functional traits can best discriminate between Leucaena leucocephala and the eight dominant native species. Important findings: Leucaena leucocephala could be invariably growing fast (photosynthesis rate, stomatal conductance and transpiration rate much higher than native species) from wet to dry seasons and had higher drought stress tolerance (leaf turgor loss point much lower than native species) in the dry season. The results of PCA showed that these functional traits could significantly discriminate between L. leucocephala and the eight dominant native species. Therefore, invariable fast-growing from wet to dry season and high drought stress tolerance in the dry season make L. leucocephala successfully invade pioneer communities of tropical rain forests. In the future, these functional traits can be used to select many native species to perform biological control of L. leucocephala in other tropical forests.