J Plant Ecol ›› 2020, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (5): 589-600.

• Research Articles •

### Growth, phenology and N-utilization by invasive populations of Gunnera tinctoria

Maurício Cruz Mantoani1,* , Alberto Benavent González2, Leopoldo García Sancho2 and Bruce Arthur Osborne1

1. 1UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science and UCD Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland, 2Departamento de Farmacología, Farmacognosia y Botánica, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain

*Corresponding author. E-mail: mauricio.cruzmantoani@ucd.ie
• Received:2020-07-02 Accepted:2020-07-15 Online:2020-07-21 Published:2020-10-01

Abstract:

Aims

Gunnera tinctoria is an unusual N-fixing plant species that has become invasive worldwide, generally in environments with a low evaporative demand and/or high rainfall. Amongst the many mechanisms that may explain its success as an introduced species, a contrasting phenology could be important but this may depend on an ability to grow and utilize nutrients under sub-optimal conditions. We examined whether G. tinctoria has an advantage in terms of a contrasting phenology and N-fixing capability, in comparisons with Juncus effusus, the native species most impacted by G. tinctoria invasions.

Methods

We made phenological assessments on a weekly or bi-weekly basis on long-established populations on Achill Island, Ireland, during 2016–2017. Data on leaf and inflorescence number, total leaf area, light interception and above-ground biomass were collected alongside measurements of soil temperature, moisture and oxidation–reduction potential. The significance of N-fixing ability for supporting seasonal growth was assessed using δ 15N isotopic assessments, together with in situ acetylene reduction measurements.

Important Findings

The timing of the initiation of growth of G. tinctoria and J. effusus varied between 2016 and 2017, with the earlier emergence and expansion of leaves of G. tinctoria, and the largest above-ground biomass associated with higher water availability. The early growth of G. tinctoria was dependent on preformed structures, with maximum canopy development occurring in late May, prior to that of J. effusus. Whilst N-fixation was observed in March, this made a more significant contribution to growth during the later stages of canopy development. Based on δ 15N isotopic analyses, early growth was predominantly associated with N-remobilization from the rhizomes, whilst seedlings were largely reliant on N-fixation. This emphasizes the importance of nutrient mobilization for early growth and shows that the importance of an N-fixing capability may vary developmentally, as well as during different stages of the invasion process.