Seasonal and environmental variation in volatile emissions of the New Zealand native plant Leptospermum scoparium in weed-invaded and non-invaded sites.
The New Zealand tea tree Leptospermun scoparium (mānuka) is widely known for the antimicrobial properties of its honey. Mānuka is native to New Zealand, growing in a range of environments, including the Central Volcanic Plateau of the North Island, where it is currently threatened by the spread of exotic invasive weeds such as heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Here, we characterise for the first time the aboveground volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by mānuka in this area, during summer and winter seasons, in weed-invaded and non-invaded stands. We measured plant volatiles at four sites, each with a distinct combination of woody species: (1) conspecific stands of mānuka; (2) mānuka and another native species (Dracophyllum subulatum); and mānuka with one of two European invasive plants, (3) heather or (4) Scotch broom. We also quantified herbivore damage on target mānuka plants and analysed microclimatic variables (soil nutrients, air temperature and soil water content) to investigate their impact on volatile emissions. Our results reveal a strong seasonal effect on volatile emissions, but also significant differences between sites associated with biotic and abiotic changes partly driven by invasive plants. Overall, volatile emission rates from mānuka were typically lower at sites where invaders were present. We point to several factors that could contribute to the observed emission patterns and areas of interest for future research to provide a comprehensive understanding of VOC emissions in nature. Given the vital role of volatile compounds in plant communication, we also recommend future studies to be performed in multiple seasons, with larger sample sizes and more study sites to expand on these findings and explore the ecological impacts of changes in VOC emissions during plant invasion.