Resistance of island rainforest to invasion by alien plants: Influence of microhabitat and herbivory on seedling performance

  • Green P
  • Lake P
  • O'Dowd D
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Experiments have promise in determining mechanisms by which communities resist invasion. Growth and survivorship of transplanted seedlings of introduced tree species (Leucaena leucocephala, Muntingia calabura, Adenanthera pavonia, and Clausena excavata) were used to assess abiotic (light regime) and biotic resistance (herbivory) to invasion of rainforest on Christmas Island (Indian Ocean). At four sites, seedlings were transplanted into the forest edge along roadside verges and into adjacent intact forest; half were caged to prevent access by the dominant seedling consumer, the red land crab (Gecarcoidea natalis). Red crab densities did not differ between roadside and forest plots. Red crabs initially reduced survivorship of Leucaena in both edge and interior plots but virtually all seedlings in the forest interior were dead after 41 weeks. Survivorship of Muntingia was also initially reduced by crabs in the forest edge, but again, all but one seedling died by the end of the experiment. Seedlings of Adenanthera and Clausena fared much better overall, surviving well in both locations. Red crabs had no overall effect on Adenanthera survival but significantly reduced survival of Clausena in forest plots. For both species, seedling performance was greater in the forest edge than in the forest interior. Red crabs had no effect on height increment for either species; however. for Clausena, red crabs reduced seedling mass in the forest interior. Both Adenanthera and Clausena were able to persist in the intact forest. Clausena is now actively invading intact rainforest, but Adenanthera appears dispersal-limited. Resistance factors in intact forest appear hierarchical: biotic resistance afforded by land crabs can impede establishment of some plant invaders but seedling responses to abiotic factors (e.g., the light regime) largely overwhelm its effect. Together, these two community attributes are likely to restrict the range of plant invaders to a small suite of species that can successfully establish in intact rainforest on the island. However, increased propagule pressure from a variety of shade-tolerant species and further declines in the abundance of the dominant seedling consumer may lead to increasing invasion success in this island rainforest.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adenanthera
  • Biotic resistance
  • Clausena
  • Herbivory
  • Island
  • Land crabs
  • Rainforest
  • Seedling
  • Shade tolerance

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  • Peter T. Green

  • P. S. Lake

  • Dennis J. O'Dowd

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