Gorse (Ulex europaeus) infestation occupies over 4,000 ha of agriculture and conservation lands on the southeastern slope of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii. The aim of this investigation is to identify ecological features associated with this weed invasion by comparing the gorse-infested areas to the surrounding uninfested areas of this landscape. The soils within the gorse infestation are more acidic, resulting in higher levels of KCl-extractable Al and lower levels of Mehlich III-extractable Ca, Mg, Mn, and Zn. Yet, gorse accumulates higher concentrations of Ca, Zn and, Cu than the kikuyu grass (Pennesitum clandestinum), which is ubiquitous throughout the site. The Ca:Al and Mg:Al molar charge ratios of the soils are lowest within the epicenter of the gorse infestation, while the molar ratios are highest in the gorse apical stem tissues. All gorse plants are nodulated and have higher nitrogen contents than the surrounding kikuyu grass. Furthermore, the δ15N of the gorse stem tissues approaches 0‰, suggesting that nitrogen is being symbiotically fixed from the atmosphere. Characterization of the Bradyrhizobium isolated from gorse nodules shows similarities and distinctions to Bradyrhizobium isolated from the endemic legume koa (Acacia koa) within the same location. Population densities of the indigenous Bradyrhizobium are higher within the gorse rhizosphere than the kikuyu grass. Soil acidification, nutrient depletion, and symbiotic nitrogen fixation distinguish gorse-infested areas from the surrounding uninfested areas. These observations suggest that gorse has a competitive advantage over kikuyu grass under conditions of soil nutrient deficiency.
Keywords: Ulex europaeus - Pennesitum clandestinum - Acacia koa - Bradyrhizobium - Invasive weed