Landscape level effects of invasive plants and animals on water infiltration through Hawaiian tropical forests

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Watershed degradation due to invasion threatens downstream water flows and associated ecosystem services. While this topic has been studied across landscapes that have undergone invasive-driven state changes (e.g., native forest to invaded grassland), it is less well understood in ecosystems experiencing within-system invasion (e.g. native forest to invaded forest). To address this subject, we conducted an integrated ecological and ecohydrological study in tropical forests impacted by invasive plants and animals. We measured soil infiltration capacity in multiple fenced (i.e., ungulate-free)/unfenced and native/invaded forest site pairs along moisture and substrate age gradients across Hawaii to explore the effects of invasion on hydrological processes within tropical forests. We also characterized forest composition, structure and soil characteristics at these sites to assess the direct and vegetation-mediated impacts of invasive species on infiltration capacity. Our models show that invasive ungulates negatively affect soil infiltration capacity consistently across the wide moisture and substrate age gradients considered. Additionally, several soil characteristics known to be affected by invasive ungulates were associated with local infiltration rates, indicating that the long-term secondary effects of high ungulate densities in tropical forests may be stronger than effects observed in this study. The effect of invasive plants on infiltration was complex and likely to depend on their physiognomy within existing forest community structure. These results provide clear evidence for managers that invasive ungulate control efforts can improve ecohydrological function of mesic and wet forest systems critical to protecting downstream and nearshore resources and maintaining groundwater recharge.




Berio Fortini, L., Leopold, C. R., Perkins, K. S., Chadwick, O. A., Yelenik, S. G., Jacobi, J. D., … Gregg, M. (2021). Landscape level effects of invasive plants and animals on water infiltration through Hawaiian tropical forests. Biological Invasions, 23(7), 2155–2172.

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