Exotic species often invade new areas and displace native species. The problems associated with such invasions are well known, but for many exotic species, experimental work has not yet been done to predict which, and under what conditions they may become a problem. Two greenhouse experiments were devised to investigate the plasticity, shade tolerance, and phenotypic differences of full-siblings from 3 populations of Cardamine impatiens, a Eurasian species potentially invasive in North America. Potted plants were subjected to 0, 54, 76, or 91% shade created by neutral density shade cloth application. In addition, the impact of a cold pre-treatment of seedlings on the growth and reproductive output of C. impatiens plants was examined.
In our first experiment, we subjected Cardamine impatiens to non-shaded cages, 54%, or 76% shade intensity. Plants died very quickly, so LD50 data were used as a relative measure of fitness, and relative growth indices were calculated over time. Other relative measures of fitness included canopy area, leaf area, number of leaves, number of leaves per canopy area, and final plant weight. Plants in cages with no shade treatment grew faster than those in cages with shade cloth and final plant weight decreased as shade treatment percentage increased. In each population, the number of leaves increased over time and the number of leaves per canopy area decreased over time under shade treatments.
Our second experiment involved the application of 54%, 76%, and 91% shade intensity. The additional shade treatment of 91% was applied to determine the extent of plant tolerance and plasticity in response to light reduction. Due to high plant mortality in our first experiment, we treated Cardamine impatiens with a 4 week cold period prior to treatment, which simulates its biennial growth form in its natural western Virginia region habitat. Since this second experiment took place later in the year, day length was extended to more accurately duplicate the conditions during the first experiment. LD50 calculations were not necessary, and 7 of the 135 plants produced seed. Relative measures of fitness included canopy area, leaf area, number of leaves, number of leaves per canopy area, and final plant weights. As in experiment one, the number of leaves per plant increased over time, final plant weight decreased as shade treatment increased, and the number of leaves per canopy area decreased as shade treatment increased.
From these two experiments, we determined that Cardamine impatiens is a species that exhibits phenotypic plasticity and therefore may pose a threat as an invasive species. C. impatiens is able to grow and exhibit plasticity of plant architecture under the conditions of very low light. The number of leaves per canopy area decreased as shade increased, suggesting that C. impatiens is highly adaptable to low light conditions, and therefore may be exhibiting phenotypic plasticity by reallocating its resources by producing fewer leaves while maintaining canopy area. This data along with other C. impatiens traits such as high levels needed for seed production, its persistence in seed banks, along with a lack of known major enemies, indicates that they have a great capacity to invade a wide variety of habitats. We also determined that a cold treatment is necessary in order for C. impatiens to obtain optimal growth and reproduction.