Much like the fabled tortoise and the hare, the competition between native and invasive plants growing in deciduous forests in the Eastern United States is all about how the plants cross the finish line in autumn.
A new study by a Syracuse University biologist has found that the leaves of invasive plants continue to function in the fall, long after their native cousins have hunkered down for the winter. The findings are counter to conventional wisdom, which held that plants living under the forest leafy canopy obtain most of their food via photosynthesis in the spring and early summer before the canopy blocks the amount of sunlight getting to the shrubs.
The study, "Extended leaf phenology and the autumn niche in deciduous forest invasions," will be published online April 25 in Nature, the premier international journal of science, and is forthcoming in print.
"It's a classic case of scientific serendipity," says study author Jason Fridley, assistant professor of biology in SU's College of Arts and Sciences. "We set up the experiment to quantify the amount of photosynthesis happening in the spring when both groups of plants were thought to be most active. But we found it was all about the finish. This was totally off of everybody's radar." Many of the plants growing naturally under the forest canopy in the eastern United States, including New York, Pennsylvania and New England, are closely related to those that have been imported for more than 100 years, primarily from Europe, China and Japan, for cultivation in home gardens. The imported plants have invaded the surrounding forests and thrived. Scientific research is focused on uncovering strategies the invaders use that make them so successful.
Fridley set up an experimental garden on SU's South Campus that includes groups of native plants and their non-native cousins, such as Japanese honeysuckle (invader) and Canada honeysuckle (native), burning bush (invader) and bursting heart (nativ
|Contact: Judy Holmes|