, Volume 4, Issue 1-2, pp 7-24

Grazing, Environmental Heterogeneity, and Alien Plant Invasions in Temperate Pampa Grasslands

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Abstract

Temperate humid grasslands are known to be particularly vulnerable to invasion by alien plant species when grazed by domestic livestock. The Flooding Pampa grasslands in eastern Argentina represent a well-documented case of a regional flora that has been extensively modified by anthropogenic disturbances and massive invasions over recent centuries. Here, we synthesise evidence from region-wide vegetation surveys and long-term exclosure experiments in the Flooding Pampa to examine the response of exotic and native plant richness to environmental heterogeneity, and to evaluate grazing effects on species composition and diversity at landscape and local community scales. Total plant richness showed a unimodal distribution along a composite stress/fertility gradient ranging several plant community types. On average, more exotic species occurred in intermediate fertility habitats that also contained the highest richness of resident native plants. Exotic plant richness was thus positively correlated with native species richness across a broad range of flood-prone grasslands. The notion that native plant diversity decreases invasibility was supported only for a limited range of species-rich communities in habitats where soil salinity stress and flooding were unimportant. We found that grazing promoted exotic plant invasions and generally enhanced community richness, whereas it reduced the compositional and functional heterogeneity of vegetation at the landscape scale. Hence, grazing effects on plant heterogeneity were scale-dependent. In addition, our results show that environmental fluctuations and physical disturbances such as large floods in the pampas may constrain, rather than encourage, exotic species in grazed grasslands.