Summary: 1. Non-native invasive and nitrogen (N)-fixing plant species can cause large ecosystem-level impacts, particularly when they differ in functionally important plant traits from native and non N-fixing species. However, it remains unclear as to whether and how plant invasion status and N fixation ability consistently influence key plant leaf and litter traits, and trait-driven processes like herbivory and decomposition. 2. We compared leaf and litter traits, leaf palatability and litter decomposability for 41 co-occurring woody species, including native N-fixers, native non N-fixers, invasive N-fixers and invasive non N-fixers, from a New Zealand floodplain. We tested the hypotheses that: (i) invasive and N-fixing species have higher foliar N and specific leaf area, and lower concentrations of defensive phenolics and structural compounds than do native and non N-fixing species, and (ii) invasive and N-fixing species generally produce more decomposable litter and palatable foliage than do native and non N-fixing species. 3. Consistent with our hypotheses, invaders had higher foliar N and N: P ratio, and lower C: N ratio, than did native species. However, in contrast to our hypotheses, foliar phenolics were higher for the invaders while other leaf and litter traits were unaffected by invasion status. Further, N-fixers had higher N and N: P ratios, and lower C: N ratios than did non N-fixers, but other leaf and litter traits were unaffected by N fixation ability. 4. Leaf palatability was unaffected by invasion status but was higher for N-fixers than for non N-fixers. Litter decomposability was unaffected both by invasion status and N fixation ability. We found a significant positive relationship between leaf palatability and litter decomposability across all species, because similar traits, particularly the C: P ratio and total phenolic concentrations of plant tissues, were correlated with both processes. 5. Our results demonstrate that a small number of key traits, such as C: P ratio and total phenolic concentrations, drive both herbivory and decomposition irrespective of plant invasion status or N fixation ability. As such, they highlight that interspecific differences in particular plant traits, rather than plant functional group memberships based on invasion status and N fixation ability, are more effective in predicting palatability and decomposability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics