The Rhododendron ponticum is an invasive plant which causes significant damage to Welsh native habitats, leading to a loss of biodiversity and an economic loss. The aim of this project is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms behind the spread of foreign species such as Rhododendron, focusing specifically on changes to the soil. This includes changes to vital ecosystem services such as carbon and nutrient cycles which influence the growth of other plants. In addition, the project will look at the importance of changes to the chemical properties of the soil with regard to the spread of foreign plants, e.g. by introducing bioactive organic compounds with various functions, including influencing the microbial community of the soil, signalling between plants, and possibly, disrupting the growth of indigenous species by operating as natural herbicides. The project will also look at the future of sites which have been cleared of R. ponticum, looking at the recovery of the soil and the indigenous vegetation.
The hope is that increasing our understanding of these effects will lead to the development of more effective methods of controlling invasive species like R. ponticum, and preventing its regrowth after treating sites.