New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2007) 31(1): 1- 12

Biomass allocation, shade tolerance and seedling survival of the invasive species Berberis darwinii (Darwin’s barberry)

Research Article
Kate G. McAlpine 1,2,*
Linley K. Jesson 2,3
  1. Research, Development & Improvement, Department of Conservation, PO Box 0-420, Wellington 643, New Zealand
  2. School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 640, New Zealand
  3. Biology Department, University of New Brunswick, PO Bag Service 45, Fredericton, NB, Canada E3B 6E
*  Corresponding author

Berberis darwinii (Berberidaceae) is a serious environmental weed in New Zealand, capable of invading a range of different light environments from grazed pasture to intact forest. According to optimal partitioning models, some plants optimise growth under different environmental conditions by shifting biomass allocation among tissue types (e.g. roots, shoots) to maximise the capture of limiting resources (e.g. water, light). We examined patterns of growth, biomass allocation, and seedling survival in Berberis darwinii to determine whether any of these factors might be contributing to invasion success. Growth and biomass allocation parameters were measured on seedlings grown for 7 months in five natural light environments in the field. Survival was high in the sunniest sites, and low in the shadiest sites. Seedlings grown in full sun were an order of magnitude taller and heavier, had five times as many leaves, and proportionally more biomass allocated to leaves than seedlings grown in other light environments. In the shade, leaves were bigger and thinner, and leaf area as a proportion of total plant biomass increased, but the proportion of above- to below-ground biomass was similar across all light and soil moisture environments. In summary, although leaf traits were plastic, patterns of biomass allocation did not vary according to optimal partitioning models, and were not correlated with patterns of seedling survival. Implications for the management of this invasive species are discussed.