, Volume 138, Issue 1, pp 113-125

Riparian zones as havens for exotic plant species in the central grasslands

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Abstract

In the Central Grasslands of the United States, we hypothesized that riparian zones high in soil fertility would contain more exotic plant species than upland areas of low soil fertility. Our alternate hypothesis was that riparian zones high in native plant species richness and cover would monopolize available resources and resist invasion by exotic species. We gathered nested-scale vegetation data from 40 1 m2subplots (nested in four 1000 m2 plots) in both riparian and upland sites at four study areas in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota (a total of 320 1 m2 subplots and 32 1000 m2 plots). At the 1 m2 scale, mean foliar cover of native species was significantly greater (P<0.001) in riparian zones (36.3% ± 1.7%) compared to upland sites (28.7% ± 1.5%), but at this small scale there were no consistent patterns of native and exotic species richness among the four management areas. Mean exotic species cover was slightly higher in upland sites compared to riparian sites (9.0% ± 3.8% versus 8.2% ± 3.0% cover). However, mean exotic species richness and cover were greater in the riparian zones than upland sites in three of four management areas. At the 1000 m2 scale, mean exotic species richness was also significantly greater (P<0.05) in riparian zones (7.8 ± 1.0 species) compared to upland sites (4.8 ± 1.0 species) despite the heavy invasion of one upland site. For all 32 plots combined, 21% of the variance in exotic species richness was explained by positive relationships with soil % silt (t =1.7, P=0.09) and total foliar cover (t = 2.4, P=0.02). Likewise, 26% of the variance in exotic species cover (log10 cover) was explained by positive relationships with soil % silt (t =2.3, P=0.03) and total plant species richness (t = 2.5, P=0.02). At landscape scales (four 1000 m2 plots per type combined), total foliar cover was significantly and positively correlated with exotic species richness (r=0.73, P<0.05) and cover (r=0.74, P<0.05). Exotic species cover (log10 cover) was positively correlated with log10% N in the soil (r=0.61, P=0.11) at landscape scales. On average, we found that 85% (±5%) of the total number of exotic species in the sampling plots of a given management area could be found in riparian zones, while only 50% (±8%) were found in upland plots. We conclude that: (1) species-rich and productive riparian zones are particularly invasible in grassland ecosystems; and (2) riparian zones may act as havens, corridors, and sources of exotic plant invasions for upland sites and pose a significant challenge to land managers and conservation biologists.