skip to main content


Title: Crossing the threshold: Invasive grasses inhibit forest restoration on Hawaiian islands
Abstract

Forest removal for livestock grazing is a striking example of human‐caused state change leading to a stable, undesirable invasive grass system that is resistant to restoration efforts. Understanding which factors lead to resilience to the alternative grass state can greatly benefit managers when planning forest restoration. We address how thresholds of grass cover and seed rain might influence forest recovery in a restoration project on Hawaiʻi Island, USA. Since the 1980s, over 400,000Acacia koa(koa) trees have been planted across degraded pasture, and invasive grasses still dominate the understory with no native woody‐plant recruitment. Between this koa/grass matrix are remnant nativeMetrosideros polymorpha(ʻōhiʻa) trees beneath which native woody plants naturally recruit. We tested whether there were threshold levels of native woody understory that accelerate recruitment under both tree species by monitoring seed rain at 40 trees (20 koa and ʻōhiʻa) with a range of native woody understory basal area (BA). We found a positive relationship between total seed rain (but not bird‐dispersed seed rain) and native woody BA and a negative relationship between native woody BA and grass cover, with no indication of threshold dynamics. We also experimentally combined grass removal levels with seed rain density (six levels) of two common understory species in plots under koa (n = 9) and remnant ʻōhiʻa (n = 9). Few seedlings emerged when no grass was removed despite adding seeds at densities two to 75 times higher than naturally occurring. However, seedling recruitment increased two to three times once at least 50% of grass was removed. Existing survey data of naturally occurring seedlings also supported a threshold of grass cover below which seedlings were able to establish. Thus, removal of all grasses is not necessary to achieve system responses: Even moderate reductions (~50%) can increase rates of native woody recruitment. The nonlinear thresholds found here highlight how incremental changes to an inhibitory factor lead to limited restoration success until a threshold is crossed. The resources needed to fully eradicate an invasive species may be unwarranted for state change, making understanding where thresholds lie of the utmost importance to prioritize resources.

 
more » « less
NSF-PAR ID:
10405419
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecological Applications
Volume:
33
Issue:
4
ISSN:
1051-0761
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Most Hawaiian forests lack resiliency following disturbance due to the presence of non‐native and invasive plant and animal species. The montane wet forest within Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on Hawai'i island has a long history of ungulate disturbance but portions of the refuge were fenced and most ungulates excluded by the early 1990s. We examined patterns of regeneration within two 100 ha study sites in this forest following the removal of ungulates and in the absence of invasive woody tree species to determine, in part, if passive restoration techniques can be successful under these conditions. We characterized growth, mortality, and basal area (BA) changes for approximately 7,100 marked individuals of all native tree species present in two surveys over a 17–18‐year period within two hundred 30 m diameter forest plots. Considerable recruitment within plots of new trees of all species significantly changed size class distributions and erased deficits in small‐sized trees observed during the first survey, particularly for the codominant canopy tree, koa (Acacia koa). Overall, growth of established dominant 'ōhi'a trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) and recruitment of mid‐canopy trees contributed to increases in BA while high levels of mortality for largeA.koatrees contributed to decreased BA. This resulted in a slight increase in BA between the two surveys (+1.9%). This study demonstrates that fencing and ungulate removal may have rescued theA.koapopulation by facilitating the first real pulse in recruitment in over a century, and that passive restoration can be a successful management strategy in this forest.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Ecological restoration is beneficial to ecological communities in this era of large‐scale landscape change and ecological disruption. However, restoration outcomes are notoriously variable, which makes fine‐scale decision‐making challenging. This is true for restoration efforts that follow large fires, which are increasingly common as the climate changes.

    Post‐fire restoration efforts, like tree planting and seeding have shown mixed success, though the causes of the variation in restoration outcomes remain unclear. Abiotic factors such as elevation and fire severity, as well as biotic factors, such as residual canopy cover and abundance of competitive understorey grasses, can vary across a burned area and may all influence the success of restoration efforts to re‐establish trees following forest fires.

    We examined the effect of these factors on the early seedling establishment of a tree species—māmane (Sophora chrysophylla)—in a subtropical montane woodland in Hawaiʻi. Following a human‐caused wildfire, we sowed seeds of māmane as part of a restoration effort. We co‐designed a project to examine māmane seedling establishment.

    We found that elevation was of overriding importance, structuring total levels of plant establishment, with fewer seedlings establishing at higher elevations. Residual canopy cover was positively correlated with seedling establishment, while cover by invasive, competitive understorey grasses very weakly positively correlated with increased seedling establishment.

    Our results point to specific factors structuring plant establishment following a large fire and suggest additional targeted restoration actions within this subtropical system. For example, if greater native woody recruitment is a management goal, then actions could include targeted seed placement at lower elevations where establishment is more likely, increased seeding densities at high elevation where recruitment rates are lower, and/or invasive grass removal prior to seeding. Such actions may result in faster native ecosystem recovery, which is a goal of local land managers.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Harsh habitats dominated by invasive species are difficult to restore. Invasive grasses in arid environments slow succession toward more desired composition, yet grass removal exacerbates high light and temperature, making the use of “nurse plants” an appealing strategy. In this study of degraded subtropical woodlands dominated by alien grasses in Hawai'i, we evaluated whether individuals of two native (Dodonaea viscosa,Leptocophylla tameiameia) and one non‐native (Morella faya) woody species (1) act as natural nodes of recruitment for native woody species and (2) can be used to enhance survivorship of outplanted native woody species. To address these questions, we quantified the presence and persistence of seedlings naturally recruiting beneath adult nurse shrubs and compared survival and growth of experimentally outplanted seedlings of seven native woody species under the nurse species compared to intact and cleared alien‐grass plots. We found that the two native nurse shrubs recruit their own offspring, but do not act as establishment nodes for other species.Morella fayarecruited even fewer seedlings than native shrubs. Thus, outplanting will be necessary to increase abundance and diversity of native woody species. Outplant survival was the highest under shrubs compared to away from them with few differences between nurse species. The worst habitat for native seedling survival and growth was within the unmanaged invasive grass matrix. Although the two native nurse species did not differentially affect outplant survival,D. viscosais the most widespread and easily propagated and is thus more likely to be useful as an initial nurse species. The outplanted species showed variable responses to nurse habitats that we attribute to resource requirements resulting from their typical successional stage and nitrogen fixation capability.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Both dispersal‐ and niche‐based factors can impose major barriers on tree establishment. Our understanding of how these factors interact to determine recruitment rates is based primarily on findings from mature tropical forests, despite the fact that a majority of tropical forests are now secondary. Consequently, factors influencing seed limitation and the seed‐to‐seedling transition (STS) in disturbed landscapes, and how those factors shift during succession, are not well understood. We used a 3.5‐yr record of seed rain and seedling establishment to investigate factors influencing tree recruitment after a decade of recovery in a tropical wet forest restoration experiment in southern Costa Rica. We asked (1) how do a range of restoration treatments (natural regeneration, applied nucleation, plantation), canopy cover, and life‐history traits influence the STS and (2) how do seed and establishment limitation (lack of seed arrival or lack of seedling recruitment, respectively) influence vegetation recovery within restoration treatments as compared to remnant forest? We did not observe any differences in STS rates across restoration treatments. However, STS rates were lowest in adjacent later successional remnant forests, where seed source availability did not highly limit seed arrival, underscoring that niche‐based processes may increasingly limit recruitment as succession unfolds. Additionally, larger‐seeded species had consistently higher STS rates across treatments and remnant forests, though establishment limitation for these species was lowest in the remnant forests. Species were generally seed limited and almost all were establishment limited; these patterns were consistent across treatments. However, our results suggest that differences in recruitment rates could be driven by differential dispersal to treatments with higher canopy cover. We found evidence that barriers to recruitment shift during succession, with the influence of seed limitation, mediated by species‐level seed deposition rates, giving way to niche‐based processes. However, establishment limitation was lowest in the remnant forests for large‐seeded and late successional species, highlighting the importance of habitat specialization and life‐history traits in dictating recruitment dynamics. Overall, results demonstrate that active restoration approaches such as tree planting catalyze forest recovery, not only by decreasing components of seed limitation, but also by developing canopy cover that increases establishment rates of larger‐seeded species.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Hurricanes cause dramatic changes to forests by opening the canopy and depositing debris onto the forest floor. How invasive rodent populations respond to hurricanes is not well understood, but shifts in rodent abundance and foraging may result from scarce fruit and seed resources that follow hurricanes. We conducted studies in a wet tropical forest in Puerto Rico to better understand how experimental (canopy trimming experiment) and natural (Hurricane Maria) hurricane effects alter populations of invasive rodents (Rattus rattus[rats] andMus musculus[mice]) and their foraging behaviors. To monitor rodent populations, we used tracking tunnels (inked and baited cards inside tunnels enabling identification of animal visitors' footprints) within experimental hurricane plots (arborist trimmed in 2014) and reference plots (closed canopy forest). To assess shifts in rodent foraging, we compared seed removal of two tree species (Guarea guidoniaandPrestoea acuminata) between vertebrate‐excluded and free‐access treatments in the same experimental and reference plots, and did so 3 months before and 9 months after Hurricane Maria (2017). Trail cameras were used to identify animals responsible for seed removal. Rat incidences generated from tracking tunnel surveys indicated that rat populations were not significantly affected by experimental or natural hurricanes. Before Hurricane Maria there were no mice in the forest interior, yet mice were present in forest plots closest to the road after the hurricane, and their forest invasion coincided with increased grass cover resulting from open forest canopy. Seed removal ofGuareaandPrestoeaacross all plots was rat dominated (75%–100% rat‐removed) and was significantly less after than before Hurricane Maria. However, following Hurricane Maria, the experimental hurricane treatment plots of 2014 had 3.6 times greater seed removal by invasive rats than did the reference plots, which may have resulted from rats selecting post‐hurricane forest patches with greater understory cover for foraging. Invasive rodents are resistant to hurricane disturbance in this forest. Predictions of increased hurricane frequency from expected climate change should result in forest with more frequent periods of grassy understories and mouse presence, as well as with heightened rat foraging for fruit and seed in preexisting areas of disturbance.

     
    more » « less