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Invasive Buddleja davidii allocates more nitrogen to its photosynthetic machinery than five native woody species


The general-purpose genotype hypothesis and the hypothesis of the evolution of invasiveness predict that invasive species are characterized by particular traits that confer invasiveness. However, these traits are still not well-defined. In this study, ecophysiological traits of eight populations of the invasive shrub Buddleja davidii from a wide range of European locations and five co-occurring native woody species in Germany were compared in a common garden experiment. We hypothesized that the invader has higher resource capture ability and utilization efficiency than the natives. No differences were detected among the eight populations of B. davidii in any of the traits evaluated, indicating that the invader did not evolve during range expansion, thus providing support to the general-purpose genotype hypothesis. The invader showed significantly higher maximum electron transport rate, maximum carboxylation rate, carboxylation efficiency, light-saturated photosynthetic rate (P max) and photosynthetic nitrogen utilization efficiency (PNUE) than the five natives. Leaf nitrogen content was not significantly different between the invader and the natives, but the invader allocated more nitrogen to the photosynthetic machinery than the natives. The increased nitrogen content in the photosynthetic machinery resulted in a higher resource capture ability and utilization efficiency in the invader. At the same intercellular CO2 concentration, P max was significantly higher in the invader than in the natives, again confirming the importance of the higher nitrogen allocation to photosynthesis. The invader reduced metabolic cost by increasing the ratio of P max to dark respiration rate (R d), but it did not reduce carbon cost by increasing the specific leaf area and decreasing leaf construction cost. The higher nitrogen allocation to the photosynthetic machinery, P max, PNUE and P max/R d may facilitate B. davidii invasion, although studies involving a wide range of invasive species are needed to understand the generality of this pattern and to fully assess the ecological advantages afforded by these features.

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C B :

ratio of leaf chlorophyll to leaf nitrogen in light-harvesting components in mmol g−1

C C :

leaf chlorophyll concentration in mmol g−1

C i :

intercellular CO2 concentration in μmol mol−1


leaf construction cost in g dm−2


carboxylation efficiency

G s :

stomatal conductance in mol m−2 s−1

J max :

maximum electron transport rate in μmol m−2 s−1

J mc :

the potential rate of photosynthetic electron transport per unit cytochrome f in μmol μmol−1 s−1

K c :

the Michaelis–Menten constant of Rubisco for carboxylation in μmol mol−1

K o :

the Michaelis–Menten constant of Rubisco for oxidation in mmol mol−1

N A :

total leaf nitrogen content in g m−2

N M :

mass-based leaf nitrogen content in g g−1

N P :

nitrogen content in photosynthetic machinery in g m−2

O :

intercellular oxygen concentration in mmol mol−1

P B :

fraction of leaf nitrogen allocated to bioenergetics in g g−1

P C :

fraction of leaf nitrogen allocated to carboxylation in g g−1

P L :

fraction of leaf nitrogen allocated to light-harvesting components in g g−1

P max :

light-saturated photosynthetic rate in μmol m−2 s−1

P max-M :

mass-based light-saturated photosynthetic rate in μmol g−1 s−1

P max′:

light- and CO2-saturated photosynthetic rate in μmol m−2 s−1

P n :

net photosynthetic rate in μmol m−2 s−1

P T :

fraction of leaf nitrogen allocated to all components of photosynthetic machinery in g g−1


photosynthetic nitrogen utilization efficiency (P max/N A) in μmol g−1 s−1


photosynthetic photon flux density in μmol m−2 s−1

R d :

dark respiration rate in μmol m−2 s−1


respiration efficiency (P max/R d)


specific leaf area in cm2 mg−1

V cmax :

maximum carboxylation rate in μmol m−2 s−1

V cr :

specific activity of Rubisco in μmol g−1 s−1


water utilization efficiency (P max/G s) in μmol mol−1


CO2 compensation point in μmol mol−1


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The authors are grateful to Dr Heike Vibrans (Colegio de Postgraduados en Ciencias Agrícolas, México), the Editor-in-Chief Dr Christian Körner, the handling editor Dr Fernando Valladares and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable advice and comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This version of the manuscript has been improved greatly by their insightful comments. Furthermore, we thank Antje Thondorf for carrying out the carbon and nitrogen analyses. Y.-L. Feng was funded by the Key Project of Knowledge Innovation Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCX1-SW-13-0X-0X) and the Project of National Natural Science Foundation of China (30670394). The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

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Correspondence to Yu-Long Feng.

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Communicated by Fernando Valladares.

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Feng, Y., Auge, H. & Ebeling, S.K. Invasive Buddleja davidii allocates more nitrogen to its photosynthetic machinery than five native woody species. Oecologia 153, 501–510 (2007).

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  • Capture ability
  • Comparison
  • Construction cost
  • Utilization efficiency
  • Water