Invasion of nutrient-poor habitats might be related to the ability of a species to exploit nutrient-rich microsites. Recent research suggests fast-growing species might have a greater ability to allocate root biomass to nutrient-rich microsites (root foraging precision) than slow-growing species. We examined if differences in relative growth rate (RGR) between invasive and native species were related to differences in foraging precision. We hypothesized that invasive species would: (1) have greater foraging precision than native species but (2) greater foraging precision would come at a cost in terms of root nutrient uptake rate. Foraging precision was evaluated on plants growing in soils with uniform or patchy nutrient distribution. Plants were harvested at a common time and a common developmental stage to separate indirect effects of RGR on foraging. Nutrient uptake rate was examined by exposing plants to a low or high nitrogen pulse. Invasives foraged more precisely than natives but had lower nitrogen uptake rate. Although these results support the idea of a positive relationship between RGR and foraging precision, biomass production in heterogeneous soils showed no relationship to foraging precision. Instead, species with greater RGR produced more biomass and root length across all treatments, allowing greater nutrient capture in heterogeneous soils. Although these results do not exclude a role for proliferation in influencing invasion of nutrient-poor systems or the potential for heterogeneity to influence population processes, these results suggest other traits may have an overriding importance in determining invader success in these systems.
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