Plant community responses to kudzu (Pueraria montana) invasion in a southern upland forest.
Kudzu (Pueraria montana (Lour.) Merr. var. lobata (Willd.)) has long been regarded as one of the most destructive invasive species in temperate forests. Despite this, little is known about the specific impacts of kudzu on native plant communities. In this study we compared plant communities of mixed pine-oak forest sites in Mississippi infested with kudzu to those in uninvaded sites, and asked if kudzu generally suppresses the plant community or has unequal effects on species differing in weediness, shade tolerance, or growth form. At each site we determined species richness; percentage of cover of understory species; density of large trees, saplings, and seedlings; and species composition of sample plots. Kudzu-invaded sites had lower species richness, less understory cover, and lower density of woody species than control sites. Species persisting in kudzu-invaded sites were a subset of species found in control sites, and persistence was unrelated to growth form, weediness, or shade tolerance. Both light limitation and nitrogen fixation by kudzu may be related to these results but further study will be required to evaluate their relative impact on kudzu-invaded communities.