Relative growth rates of three woody legumes: implications in the process of ecological invasion
Abstract. Acacia longifolia, an Australian leguminous tree, is one of the main invasive plant species in the coast of Portugal and a major threat to the native vegetation in the Reserva Natural das Dunas de São Jacinto. With the establishment of this exotic species, other native woody leguminous species such as Cytisus grandiflorus and Ulex europaeus have been displaced from their original areas. Several factors are involved in the process of biological invasion by exotic species. Plant physiology and development, characteristic of each species, can give certain advantages in the establishment and colonization of new areas. We tested if there are differences in the Relative Growth Rate (RGR) of the exotic and native species because this could be relevant in the first stages of the invasion process. Our results showed that A. longifolia was the species with lowest RGR. Therefore, other factors apart from RGR might explain the invasion of coastal dunes by this species. We propose that A. longifolia might be a better competitor than the two native legumes and that this process might be mediated by the interaction with soil organisms.