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The Power of Invasives

Harvard Forest researchers have transformed the scientific understanding of invasive plants by discovering that exotic plants can release chemicals belowground that disrupt the relationship between native tree seedlings and their beneficial fungi. With native plants suppressed, the exotic plants are able to invade forests more aggressively.

Wolfe, B.E., Rodgers, V.L., Stinson, K.A., and Pringle, A. (2008) The invasive plant Alliaria petiolata(garlic mustard) inhibits ectomycorrhizal fungi in its introduced range. Journal of Ecology 96:777-783.
Callaway R.M., Cipollini, D. Barto K., Thelen, G.C., Hallett G., Prati D., Stinson, K.A., Klironomos, J. (2008) Novel weapons: invasive plant suppresses fungal mutualists in America but not in its native Europe. Ecology 89:1043-1055.
Stinson K.A., Campbell S.A., Powell J.R., Wolfe B.E., Callaway R.M., Thelen G.C., Hallett S.G., Prati D. and Klironomos J.N. 2006. Invasive plant suppresses the growth of native tree seedlings by disrupting belowground mutualisms. PLOS Biology 4: 727-731.
Kristina Stinson
Garlic mustard seedlings emerging along a stone wall amidst native vegetation in late spring, near a long term invasive plant monitoring plot at Harvard Forest's LTER site.
K. Stinson
The researchers tested whether soils with a history of garlic mustard invasion reduced the ability of native tree seedlings to form mycorrhizal associations and grow compared to non-invaded soils. The dominant native hardwood tree species (sugar maple, red maple, and white ash) showed significantly less mycorrhization (a) and grew significantly less well (b) in soil invaded by garlic mustard. These reductions were similar to those observed on sterilized soil from both garlic mustard-infested and garlic mustard-free sites (Fig 1b), strongly suggesting that garlic mustard suppresses the growth of native trees by disrupting microbial interactions.

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