The ability of invasive plants to achieve higher relative growth rates (RGR) than their native counterparts has been widely documented. However, the mechanisms allowing invasives to achieve higher RGR are poorly understood. The objective of this study was to determine the basis for RGR differences between native and invasive forbs that have widely invaded nutrient-poor soils of the Intermountain West. Six native and 6 invasive forbs were seeded in pots in a greenhouse, and 4 harvests were conducted over a 2-month period. These 4 harvests were used to calculate RGR and the components of RGR, net assimilation rate (rate of dry matter production per unit leaf area), leaf area ratio (LAR, leaf area per unit total plant mass), leaf mass ratio (the proportion of biomass allocated to leaves), and specific leaf area (SLA, leaf area per unit leaf biomass). Mean RGR of the 12 study species ranged between 0.04 and 0.15 g · g−1 · d−1 but was significantly higher for invasive forbs compared to native forbs (P = 0.036). The higher RGR achieved by invasive forbs was due mainly to a greater SLA and LAR. This indicates that invasive forbs achieved higher RGR than natives primarily by creating more leaf area per unit leaf mass, not by allocating more biomass to leaf tissue or by having a higher net rate of dry matter production. A high degree of variation in RGR, SLA, and LAR was observed in native forbs, suggesting that the ability to design weed-resistant plant communities may be improved by managing for specific functional traits as opposed to functional groups.
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Vol. 60 • No. 4