A perfect storm: two ecosystem engineers interact to degrade deciduous forests of New Jersey
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- Baiser, B., Lockwood, J.L., La Puma, D. et al. Biol Invasions (2008) 10: 785. doi:10.1007/s10530-008-9247-9
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Ecosystem engineers play a large role in physically structuring the ecosystem in which they are embedded. The focus of much of the research surrounding these species is to document the impacts of a single engineer on community composition and ecosystem processes. However, most ecosystems harbor multiple engineering species that interact in complex ways and rarely have the dynamics of such species been fully investigated. We look at how two ecosystem engineers, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and the invasive plant Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), interact to completely alter the structure and composition of the subcanopy within northern deciduous forests. This interaction has wide-ranging repercussions on forest food webs which we explore through a case study of breeding woodland birds in the state of New Jersey, USA. We show that the guilds of birds that rely on the subcanopy have experienced greater declines from 1980 to 2005 than birds that specialize on the intact upper canopy of impacted forests. This dynamic is not restricted to immediate temporal effects and may act to derail the long-term successional pathway of northern deciduous forests. It is no longer prudent to set aside tracts of forest and expect them to retain their native biodiversity without active management.