Comparative performance of invasive and native Celastrus species across environmental gradients
Leicht-Young SA; Silander JA; Latimer AM
The ability to understand and predict the success of invasive plant species in their new ranges is increased when there is a sympatric native congener available for comparison. Celastrus orbiculatus (oriental bittersweet) is a liana introduced into the United States in the mid-1800s from East Asia as an ornamental plant. Its native congener Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) ranges from the east coast of the United States as far west as Wyoming. In the Northeastern United States C. orbiculatus is continuing to expand its range while C. scandens appears to be in serious decline. One hypothesis for this decline is that C. scandens does not have such a wide range of ecological tolerances in the current landscape as C. orbiculatus which seems to tolerate a greater range of resource conditions. To investigate this hypothesis we transplanted these two species into ten sites that spanned a full range of light and soil moisture conditions to compare their establishment and performance in terms of aboveground growth (biomass and height) and mortality. After two years C. orbiculatus showed significantly lower mortality and greater biomass across all resource conditions compared to C. scandens. In addition C. orbiculatus preferred more mesic soil moisture conditions while C. scandens performed better in drier soil moisture conditions. Since much of the Northeastern United States is now forested this preference for mesic soil conditions could make it more successful than C. scandens in the region. This study shows the utility of manipulative experiments particularly those using congeneric native species as benchmarks for assessing the causes and predicting the course of invasions.