The phenology of growth in temperate deciduous forests, including the timing of leaf emergence and senescence, has strong control over ecosystem properties such as productivity and nutrient cycling, and has an important role in the carbon economy of understory plants. Extended leaf phenology, whereby understory species assimilate carbon in early spring before canopy closure or in late autumn after canopy fall, has been identified as a key feature of many forest species invasions, but it remains unclear whether there are systematic differences in the growth phenology of native and invasive forest species or whether invaders are more responsive to warming trends that have lengthened the duration of spring or autumn growth. Here, in a 3-year monitoring study of 43 native and 30 non-native shrub and liana species common to deciduous forests in the eastern United States, I show that extended autumn leaf phenology is a common attribute of eastern US forest invasions, where non-native species are extending the autumn growing season by an average of 4weeks compared with natives. In contrast, there was no consistent evidence that non-natives as a group show earlier spring growth phenology, and non-natives were not better able to track interannual variation in spring temperatures. Seasonal leaf production and photosynthetic data suggest that most non-native species capture a significant proportion of their annual carbon assimilate after canopy leaf fall, a behaviour that was virtually absent in natives and consistent across five phylogenetic groups. Pronounced differences in how native and non-native understory species use pre-and post-canopy environments suggest eastern US invaders are driving a seasonal redistribution of forest productivity that may rival climate change in its impact on forest processes.
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