Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jason D. Fridley


biological invasions, forest ecology, leaf economics spectrum, photosynthesis, plant ecophysiology, resource-use efficiency

Subject Categories

Life Sciences


Despite the presumption that native species are well adapted to their local environment, non-native invaders seem to outperform native plants. Intuitively, it appears paradoxical that non-native species, with no opportunity for local adaptation, can exhibit greater fitness than native plants with this advantage. Here, I compared traits of native and invasive shrub and liana species in Eastern North American (ENA) forests to test the overarching hypothesis that non-native understory species invasive to this region have superior resource-use strategies, or alternatively, they share the same metabolic tradeoffs as the native flora. First, at a global scale, I addressed the largely untested hypothesis that biogeography places significant constraints on trait evolution. Reanalyzing a large functional trait database, along with species' native distribution data, I found that regional floras with different evolutionary histories exhibit different tradeoffs in resource capture strategies. Second, using a common garden to control for environment, I measured leaf physiological traits relating to resource investments, carbon returns, and resource-use efficiencies in 14 native and 18 non-native invasive species of common genera found in ENA understories, where growth is presumably constrained by light and nutrient limitation. I tested whether native and invasive plants have similar metabolic constraints or if these invasive species (predominantly from East Asia) are more productive per unit resource cost. Despite greater resource costs (leaf construction, leaf N), invaders exhibited greater energy- and nitrogen-use efficiencies, particularly when integrated over leaf lifespan. Efficiency differences were primarily driven by greater mean photosynthetic abilities (20% higher daily C gain) and leaf lifespans (24 days longer) in invasive species. Third, motivated by common garden results, I conducted a resource addition experiment in a central NY deciduous forest to investigate the role of resource limitation on invasion success in the field. I manipulated understory light environments (overstory tree removal) and N availabilities (ammonium-nitrate fertilization) to create a resource gradient across plots each containing 3 invasive and 6 native woody species. Invasive species generally exhibited greater aboveground productivity and photosynthetic gains. After two treatment years, invasive species displayed more pronounced trait responses to the resource gradients, primarily light, relative to the weaker responses of native species. Lastly, I asked whether species exhibit similar resource-use strategies in their native and invasive ranges. I measured leaf functional traits of Rhamnus cathartica (native to Europe, invasive in ENA) and Prunus serotina (native to ENA, invasive in Europe) in populations across central NY and northern France. Notably, I found invasive US populations of R. cathartica had markedly greater photosynthetic rates (50% higher) and reduced leaf N resorption rates in autumn (30% lower) than native French populations. Contrastingly, I found minimal leaf trait differences in P. serotina between native (US) and invasive (French) populations. Collectively, my results highlight the utility of functional trait perspectives and support a mechanistic explanation for invasion success based on differential abilities of species to convert limiting resources to biomass.


Open Access

Included in

Life Sciences Commons