Ecophysiological studies of the invasive weed Chromolaena odorata (L.) King and Robinson and its control in KwaZulu-Natal.
Despite increased interest in the control and spread of the alien weed, Chromolaena odorata, little is known of its photosynthetic characteristics under field conditions. The aim of the study was to obtain a better understanding of the ecophysiological attributes of C. odorata that contribute to its invasive success. Photosynthetic performance of C. odorata was evaluated by monitoring diurnal changes in gas exchange, chlorophyll a fluorescence and plant water relations. Gas exchange characteristics of plants growing in exposed and shaded environments, as well as seasonal patterns, were evaluated. The response of C. odorata to water stress was also determined. Chromolaena odorata exhibited high CO2 uptake rates with no light saturation. Shade plants had significantly larger leaf surface areas and greater concentrations of total chlorophyll, total carotenoids and chlorophylls a and b than sun plants. Relatively high photosynthetic uptake rates in C. odorata may allow for greater carbon gain in high light environments thus contributing to increased growth and spread of the species. Chromolaena odorata can successfully acclimatise to low photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD), thus, outcompeting less tolerant species under low light conditions. Leaf conductance, CO2 uptake, transpiration and chlorophyll fluorescence parameters in winter were tightly coupled to summer. Plants had higher water use efficiency (WUE) in summer compared to winter, probably to maximise CO2 uptake and minimise water loss. There was a progressive decrease in leaf water potential with increase in water stress in water stressed (WS) plants. The leaves of WS plants showed signs of severe wilting 10 days after the onset of stress compared to well watered (WW) plants. Increased proline concentration and leaf wilting probably increase (WUE) and may be an adaptive strategy to protect against dehydration injury.The effects of the herbicide, glyphosate, on gas exchange and translocation were studied. Glyphosate treatment decreased leaf conductance leading to a reduction in CO2 uptake and transpiration. Glyphosate is a mobile herbicide that is transported from leaves to roots and caused death of plants within a week of treatment. The potential antimicrobial properties of the weed were evaluated using selected bacteria and fungi. Crude leaf extracts exhibited some antibacterial and antifungal activity. Extracts from the weed are unlikely to be useful antimicrobial sources due to low concentrations of active compounds. A co-ordinated strategy, taking into account the high plasticity of the weed, is needed to curtail the spread of C. odorata. The ecophysiological responses to environmental conditions should be considered when planning management and control strategies for C. odorata.