Ecohydrological Controls and Effects of Rhizome Integration on the Performance of Arundo donax in a Rio Grande Riparian Zone
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This study focused on an invasive riparian reed grass, Arundo donax L., a clonal plant of the family Poaceae that is widely distributed in North America. Water availability, including water taken up from the roots locally or transported from the neighboring ramets, may affect the performance of A. donax in riparian zones. The first objective was to find out how moisture gradients affected the performance of A. donax in riparian zones. I measured leaf photosynthetic rate, leaf ?13C ratio, and plant growth-related parameters across two summer growing seasons at four transects perpendicular to the water course on the Rio Grande in South Texas. The second objective was to find out whether physiological integration existed in A. donax and how resource sharing, if any, affected plant growth. A rhizome severing experiment was conducted on five paired plots to compare growth-related parameters between plots with rhizomes severed and intact at 3, 7, and 11 weeks after treatment. Heavy water (? 2H ~1800?) was applied on three 1-m2 area over 3 successive days and rhizome samples were collected beyond the watering zone after 5, 24, and 48 hours of last watering. At short-term scales, A. donax performance was adversely affected by both drought and inundated conditions; over longer time scales, plant performance decreased as water availability declined in general, but biomass and stem density were similar across moisture gradients. I also found evidence of physiological integration in A. donax. Water was transported through interconnected rhizomes at least 3.5 m; transport distances averaged 1.67 m. Rhizome severing stimulated higher ramet production initially but over longer periods produced shorter thinner stems with lower flood tolerance. However, after 11 weeks of re-growth, plot-level biomass was similar between plots with severed and intact rhizomes. These results suggest that performance of A. donax is affected by water availability in riparian zones; however, clonal plant plasticity, water use efficiency, and clonal integration ameliorate impacts of water stress on the performance of A. donax. Such traits enhance its resource use, which could potentially increase competitive ability rate of establishment, and extent of this invasive species in heterogeneous riparian environments.