Exotic invasive species are nonnative species that thrive outside of their native habitat, and while it is difficult to determine which exotic plants will become invasive, successful invaders often share a wide range of traits including high growth rate and reproductive output, vegetative reproduction, high population growth rates, early reproductive age, phenotypic and physiological plasticity, and high resource use efficiency. Here we report on the response of pampasgrass, an important exotic invasive plant of the western United States, to experimental variations in soil nitrogen (N) and water availability. Given its ability to invade a wide variety of ecosystems in southern California, we hypothesized that pampasgrass would have higher water and N use efficiency under conditions of low water and N availability but rapid growth and resource use under conditions of high water and N availability. Our data support this hypothesis and indicate that pampasgrass exhibited large variations in growth, carbon allocation, morphology, and N and phosphorus (P) nutrition to variations in N availability and water table depth. Many of these traits are highly correlated with invasive performance, and the high N and P use efficiency observed under low soil N (control) and water table, coupled with the large increase in physiological performance and resource use under high N and water table, indicate that pampasgrass is highly flexible to soil resource levels that are typical for coastal sage scrub and riparian ecosystems of southern California. Such flexibility in resource use could allow pampasgrass to persist in low-resource environments and expand as resource levels increase.
Nomenclature: Pampasgrass, Cortaderia selloana (Schultes) Asch. & Graebner.