, Volume 15, Issue 12, pp 2691-2706

Consumers and establishment limitations contribute more than competitive interactions in sustaining dominance of the exotic herb garlic mustard in a Wisconsin, USA forest

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Abstract

The understory is a diverse component of temperate forest ecosystems, contributing significantly to forest ecosystem services. Despite their importance, many native understories face stresses from current and past land use, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and overabundant herbivores. We established a four block, three factor experiment to evaluate the relative contribution of native plant establishment, competitive effects from the invasive herb garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and herbivory from white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to better understand the mechanisms promoting low native plant richness and cover and understory dominance by the biennial exotic herb garlic mustard in a NE Wisconsin, USA forest. Four years of garlic mustard removal failed to increase native plant richness or cover in non-restored plots. However, deer access and the introduction of native plants (restoration treatment) both significantly enhanced native plant cover and richness, with restored species cover in fenced plots approximately 216 % that of open-access plots, and the majority of these species flowered at significantly higher proportions inside of fenced areas. In contrast, deer access did not significantly alter the cover, or seed production of garlic mustard. We also found no significant effect of garlic mustard presence on the cover or flowering of restored native species. We conclude that multiple factors, including limited natural establishment by native species and selective herbivory drove low native, high exotic dominance at our site, suggesting that a shift in focus from invasive plant removal to combined native plant restoration and herbivore control is needed to maximize the recovery of this degraded forest understory.