Fast but steady: An integrated leaf-stem-root trait syndrome for woody forest invaders

Ecol Lett. 2022 Apr;25(4):900-912. doi: 10.1111/ele.13967. Epub 2022 Jan 31.


Successful control and prevention of biological invasions depend on identifying traits of non-native species that promote fitness advantages in competition with native species. Here, we show that, among 76 native and non-native woody plants of deciduous forests of North America, invaders express a unique functional syndrome that combines high metabolic rate with robust leaves of longer lifespan and a greater duration of annual carbon gain, behaviours enabled by seasonally plastic xylem structure and rapid production of thin roots. This trait combination was absent in all native species examined and suggests the success of forest invaders is driven by a novel resource-use strategy. Furthermore, two traits alone-annual leaf duration and nuclear DNA content-separated native and invasive species with 93% accuracy, supporting the use of functional traits in invader risk assessments. A trait syndrome reflecting both fast growth capacity and understorey persistence may be a key driver of forest invasions.

Keywords: forest dynamics; growth-survival trade-off; invasion risk assessment; invasion success; leaf phenology.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Forests*
  • Introduced Species
  • Plant Leaves
  • Trees* / genetics


  • Carbon