, Volume 139, Issue 3, pp 467-477
Date: 03 Mar 2004

Are boreal ecosystems susceptible to alien plant invasion? Evidence from protected areas

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Although biological invasion by alien species is a major contributor to loss of indigenous biological diversity, few studies have examined the susceptibility of the boreal biome to invasion. Based on studies of other ecosystems, we hypothesized that alien plants will be restricted to disturbed areas near human activity and will not be found in natural areas of boreal ecosystems in Gros Morne National Park (Canada), a protected area experiencing a wide range of disturbance regimes. The distribution of alien plants in the region was evaluated using surveys, and study sites were established in naturally and anthropogenically disturbed habitats that had been invaded. Within study sites, randomization tests evaluated the importance of disturbance to alien plant invasion by examining changes in environmental conditions and species abundance within various disturbance regimes, while the importance of site characteristics limiting the distribution of alien plants were examined using Canonical Correspondence Analysis. Consistent with studies in a variety of biomes, areas of high disturbance and human activity had the greatest abundance of resources and the highest percentage of alien species. However, contrary to our hypothesis, natural areas of boreal ecosystems were found susceptible to alien plant invasion. Vegetation types vulnerable to invasion include forests, riparian areas, fens, and alpine meadows. Natural disturbance occurring in these vegetation types caused increases in bare ground and/or light availability facilitating alien plant invasion. Although high soil pH was associated with alien plants in these areas, disturbance was not found to cause changes in soil pH, suggesting susceptibility to invasion is pre-determined by bedrock geology or other factors influencing soil pH. Moose (Alces alces), a non-native herbivore, acts as the primary conduit for alien plant invasion in GMNP by dispersing propagules and creating or prolonging disturbance by trampling and browsing vegetation. The recurrent nature of disturbance within the boreal biome and its interaction with site conditions and herbivores enables alien plants to persist away from areas of high human activity. Managers of natural lands should monitor such interactions to decrease the invasion potential of alien plants.