Rhododendron (2019) – potentially shifting the natural balance of ecosystems

Litter of the invasive shrub Rhododendron ponticum (Ericacaea) modifies the decomposition rate of the native UK woodland litter

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This study investigated the chemical properties of the invasive shrub Rhododendron ponticum’s leaf litter on native or naturalised trees’ leaf litter. Quercus petraea, Fraxinus excelsior and Acer pseudoplatanus were chosen as they are commonly found in invaded broadleaf woodlands.

The study assessed;

        1. phenolic compounds and nutrient content in each species;
        2. decomposition of different litters though microbial respiration and dissolved organic carbon;
        3. mixing either litter or leachates from R ponticum into native leaf litter; and
        4. the hypothesis that the strength of non-additive responses increase with increasing ponticum litter.

Results showed that invasive litter chemistry can alter the decomposition of native litter, with the impact varying between species. Altered decomposition rates could cause plant-soil feedbacks, leading to altered soil nutrient concentrations. The novel soil conditions may favour the invader, increasing its dominance, whilst negatively influencing native species possessing greater nutrient demands.

This study highlights the potential for invasive shrubs to alter the natural balance of ecosystems.


Jones, G.L., Scullion, J., Worgan, H. and Gwynn-Jones, D. (2019). Litter of the invasive shrub Rhododendron ponticum (Ericaceae) modifies the decomposition rate of native UK woodland litter. Ecological Indicators, 107, 105597. 

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Invasive Species Ireland

Invasive Species Ireland