Ecosystem legacy of the introduced N2-fixing tree Robinia pseudoacacia in a coastal forest. Academic Article uri icon


  • Habitat invasibility has been found to increase dramatically following the alteration of ecosystem properties by a nonnative species. Robinia pseudoacacia, black locust, is a nitrogen-fixing, clonal tree species that aggressively invades open habitats and expands outside of plantations worldwide. Robinia pseudoacacia stands in Cape Cod National Seashore were particularly susceptible to a hurricane in 1991 that caused widespread blowdown and a dramatic reduction in Robinia in some stands. We used this change to investigate the lasting ecological effects of this nonnative species on this upland coastal ecosystem. We established replicate clusters of 20 × 20 m field plots within 50 m of each other that contained native pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and oak (Quercus velutina, Q. alba) forest, living Robinia stands, and stands in which Robinia was eliminated or reduced to less than 5% cover by the hurricane. Net nitrification and extractable soil nitrate concentration differed significantly between stand types, in the order Robinia > former Robinia > pine-oak. Nonnative species cover differed significantly between each stand type, in the order Robinia > former Robinia > pine-oak. Invasion of Robinia pseudoacacia increased soil net nitrification and nitrogen availability and precipitated a change in forest species composition that favored nonnative species. The presence of elevated soil nitrogen and nonnative species persisted at least 14 years after the removal of the original invading tree species, suggesting that the invasion of a tree species left a legacy of altered soil biogeochemistry, a higher number of nonnative species, and greater nonnative species cover.

publication date

  • July 2013