Naturalised plants transform the composition and function of the New Zealand flora

Abstract

The New Zealand flora has a high proportion of endemic species but has been invaded by almost the same number of non-native plant species. To support management of invasive plant species, we provide an updated inventory of New Zealand’s naturalised flora and compare it with the native flora to identify key taxonomic and functional distinctions. We also assess how the naturalised flora may impact ecosystem processes differently than the native flora using functional traits related to plant resource use strategy. The 1798 species in the naturalised flora currently comprise 43.9% of the total number of vascular plant species, and add 67 plant families and 649 genera to the total vascular flora. The naturalised flora has a greater proportion of herbaceous species and annual species than the native flora, which could influence ecosystem processes such as decomposition and nutrient cycling. Naturalised trees have higher leaf nitrogen concentration for a given leaf area than native trees, which could increase rates of nutrient cycling in invaded forest ecosystems. A greater number of naturalised species are present in larger, more northerly, and more populated regions of New Zealand. Our results demonstrate both taxonomic and functional differences between the native and naturalised flora of New Zealand that can be used to guide management of naturalised plants, including the 314 species currently managed as environmental weeds, from the local to national scale.

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Data availability

The datasets used to compare taxonomic composition, growth forms and life histories (Brandt et al. 2020a, https://doi.org/10.7931/cfvb-z286; Brandt et al. 2020b, https://doi.org/10.7931/ky4e-7h98), and tree leaf traits (Brandt, Richardson 2020, https://doi.org/10.7931/wjf8-2234) between the native and naturalised floras, and to estimate the distribution of naturalised plant species in New Zealand (Etherington and Brandt 2020, https://doi.org/10.7931/nt3a-b734) are archived in DataStore: The Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research Data Repository (https://datastore.landcareresearch.co.nz/).

Code availability

R scripts used in the workflow to estimate distribution of naturalised plant species in New Zealand are available on the Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research Data Repository (Etherington and Brandt 2020, https://doi.org/10.7931/nt3a-b734).

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Acknowledgements

We dedicate this paper to the memory of Hazel A. W. Gatehouse, who diligently compiled much of the baseline information and data for the New Zealand naturalised flora on which our current work is based. The study has been supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits (http://www.try-db.org). The TRY initiative and database is hosted, developed and maintained by J. Kattge and G. Boenisch (Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany). TRY is currently supported by Future Earth/bioDISCOVERY and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. We also thank M. Dawson and H. Maule for assistance assembling data. This work was funded by the Strategic Science Investment Fund of the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. JDF was supported in part by a U.S.-New Zealand Fulbright Scholarship.

Funding

This study was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and a U.S.-New Zealand Fulbright Scholarship to JDF.

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AJB, PJB, RPD, JJS, and DAP conceived the ideas for the paper. AJB, TRE, JDF, CJH, MSM, and SJR assembled the data and AJB, TRE, and IJ analysed the data. All authors contributed significantly to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A.J. Brandt.

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Brandt, A., Bellingham, P., Duncan, R. et al. Naturalised plants transform the composition and function of the New Zealand flora. Biol Invasions 23, 351–366 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02393-4

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Keywords

  • Exotic species
  • Functional traits
  • Indigenous plant species
  • Naturalised plant species
  • Plant growth forms
  • Regional distribution