Northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.), a moderately shade-tolerant tree species, is failing to regenerate throughout its native North American range, while successful recruitment in Central Europe has been observed since its introduction. To examine whether comparative photosynthetic performance could explain the regeneration success of this non-native species in Central Europe, we compared the physiological and morphological seedling traits of red oak with three co-occurring tree species under three canopy types in southwestern Germany. Native species included a moderately shade-tolerant native oak (Quercus robur L.) and two shade-tolerant species (Acer pseudoplatanus L. and Carpinus betulus L.). The photosynthetic traits of non-native red oak seedlings were similar to those reported for this species in the native range, where shade-tolerant competitors readily outperform red oak under low light conditions. However, compared with native shade-tolerant species in Europe, red oak seedlings photosynthesized efficiently, especially under closed canopies and in small canopy gaps, exhibiting high photosynthetic capacity, low leaf dark respiration and leaf-level light compensation points that were similar to the more shade-tolerant species. The superior net carbon gain of red oak seedlings at low and moderate light levels was likely facilitated by high leaf areas and reflected by seedling dry masses that were greater than the observed native European species. A competitive advantage for red oak was not evident because relative height growth was inferior to seedlings of co-occurring species. In North America, the inability of seedlings to compete with shade-tolerant tree species in deeply shaded understories is central to the problem of poor oak recruitment. Our study suggests that the ability of non-native red oak to perform equally well to native shade-tolerant species under a variety of light conditions could contribute to the consistent success of red oak regeneration in Europe.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science