Restoring habitat for native and endemic plants through the introduction of a fungal pathogen to control the alien invasive tree Miconia calvescens in the island of Tahiti
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Success of biological control programs is commonly assessed by studying the direct negative impacts of released agents on the target invasive species. Very few quantitative studies have focused on the indirect positive effects on native biodiversity. In this study, we monitored the response of the plant community (both native and alien species) in permanent plots located in four different sites in montane rainforests of the tropical island of Tahiti (South Pacific) severely invaded over decades by the alien invasive tree Miconia calvescens DC (Melastomataceae), after the release of a defoliating fungal pathogen Colletotrichumgloeosporioides f. sp. miconiae Killgore & L. Sugiyama. Results of five years of monitoring showed that total native and endemic species richness and plant cover increased in all sites and plots. Partial defoliation of miconia canopy trees (between 6% and 36%) led to significant recruitment of light-demanding pioneer species, but also to the appearance of some semi-shade and shade tolerant rare endemic species. Native ferns and angiosperms remained dominant (ca. 80%) in the forest understorey during the monitoring period. Colonization by a small number of alien plant species occurred in one permanent plot located at the lower elevation. We conclude that biological control may be considered a tool for partial habitat restoration and recovery of native and endemic species, but long-term monitoring is needed to confirm the stability and resilience of the “novel plant assemblage”.