Volatile organic compounds emitted by invasive and native plant species under invasion scenarios and their potential ecological roles : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Climate change, human migration, and global trade favour the spread of plant species beyond their natural ranges. Many of these plants become invasive, posing a risk to the persistence and survival of native species and the ecosystems they invade. In New Zealand, the European woody shrub Calluna vulgaris (heather) is the most widespread invasive weed on the Central Plateau of North Island. Like most exotic invasive plants, the chemical behaviour (i.e. chemical production and chemical mediated interactions) of heather in its invaded habitat is poorly understood. Moreover, despite the struggles of native plants to endure the stress induced by exotic weeds, no study has documented the chemical behaviour of native plant species in plant invasion scenarios. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are secondary plant metabolites that play a vital role in plant communication with other organisms and are highly responsive to biotic and abiotic stress. Therefore, measuring VOC emissions during plant invasion could provide valuable information about plant responses to the changing environment and their potential impacts on other community members. This thesis aimed to investigate VOCs emitted by the invasive weed heather and a New Zealand native plant Leptospermum scoparium (mānuka) under field conditions, while determining the environmental factors regulating their emissions and exploring their potential ecological impacts under lab and field conditions. Results from the field trials on the Central North Plateau showed variations in the volatile profiles of heather and mānuka growing at different sites, with both plants emitting lower amounts of VOCs at sites where other exotic invasive plants were present. This reduction in VOC emissions was mostly due to indirect changes in environmental factors, like soil properties, which were driven by the invasive weeds heather and Cytisus scoparius (Scotch broom; henceforth broom). This thesis also documents the chemical responses of heather to two major stresses encountered in New Zealand; 1) elevated solar ultraviolet radiation (UV) and 2) damage caused by its introduced specialist herbivore and biocontrol agent Lochmaea suturalis (heather beetle). Results from these trials demonstrate that high UV radiation reduced the volatile emissions of some compounds (mainly terpenoids) and that the impacts of herbivory by heather beetle on VOC emission depended on the developmental stage of the herbivore, plant phenology, and season. The ability of VOCs emitted from heather and broom to affect the germination and growth of mānuka was also tested in the lab, while the impact on arthropod communities were investigated at sites on the Central North Plateau. The results suggest that VOCs produced by invasive plants may have phytotoxic effects toward mānuka and may alter arthropod community structure. This thesis highlights the complexity of plant chemical communication under invasion scenarios and invites further exploration of the interactions between exotic invasive plants and native species to broaden our understanding of invasion ecology to support weed management, biocontrol, and conservation efforts.
Heather, Leptospermum scoparium, Volatile organic compounds, Environmental aspects|, Plant metabolites, Biological invasions, New Zealand, Ruapehu District