Effect of water stress on physiological and morphological leaf traits: a comparison among the three widely-spread invasive alien species Ailanthus altissima, Phytolacca americana, and Robinia pseudoacacia.
Invasive alien species (IAS) are a problem, especially in drought-prone environments such as the Mediterranean Basin where the exacerbation of the already severe conditions could constrain the native species acclimatation degree, creating new opportunities for IAS. Climate change may drive IAS expansions, even if different IAS can vary in their acclimatation response. Thus, it is important to obtain a broader insight of how the different IAS face abiotic stress. This research aimed to compare the effect of the imposed water stress on physiological and morphological leaf traits of Ailanthus altissima (AA), Robinia pseudoacacia (RP), and Phytolacca americana (PA), which are widely spread IAS in the Mediterranean Basin. Our results showed a species-dependent effect of the water stress at a physiological and morphological level, as well as an interaction between species and stress duration. Despite a common strategy characterized by low stomatal control of the photosynthesis, AA, PA, and RP differ in their sensitivity to water stress. In particular, even if AA was characterized by a more water-spending strategy, it was more resistant to water stress than PA and RP. In this view, the key factor was its plasticity to increase leaf mass per area (LMA) in response to water stress.