Invasion success and impacts of Hieracium lepidulum in a New Zealand tussock grassland and montane forest
Invasive species represent a major concern; they can result in serious ecological and economic losses and are recognised as one of the most serious threats to global species diversity. Plant invasions are of particular concern in New Zealand, which has high proportions of both naturalised and endemic plant species. In this thesis I focussed on the invasive plant Hieracium lepidulum, an exotic weed introduced from Europe to New Zealand prior to 1941. It is invasive in a variety of habitats in the South Island, where it has steadily increased in distribution and abundance over the last 50 years, and is thought to have detrimental impacts on native plant communities. I investigated factors influencing its invasion success and tested for impacts on native plant communities, making extensive use of existing plots into which H. lepidulum was experimentally introduced in 2003. I examined how community richness, turnover, resource availability and propagule pressure of the invader interacted to determine the invasion success of H. lepidulum. Results differed markedly above and below treeline. Above treeline, plots with higher richness and turnover were more invaded; below treeline, plots with higher available light were more invaded. In both habitats, these findings were modified by the influence of propagule pressure; at low propagule pressure, site characteristics were non-significant in explaining invasion success, while at higher propagule pressure these effects became significant. To test for impacts resulting in altered community composition and structure, I looked for changes in community richness, diversity and evenness subsequent to H. lepidulum introduction. As impacts may be more apparent at fine spatial scales, I made measurements at a 5 x 5 cm cell scale in addition to the established 30 x 30 cm plot scale. Plot species richness increased from 2003 to 2009 and a component of this increase was associated with H. lepidulum density. Other relationships between the plant community and H. lepidulum were generally non-significant. Results showed that H. lepidulum has had no negative effects on community richness, evenness or diversity. Despite being able to opportunistically colonise grassland sites with high turnover, and forest sites subject to canopy disturbance, dependant on propagule pressure, it appears H. lepidulum has not impacted community composition or structure.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordsimpact; Hieracium lepidulum; exotic weeds; biological invasions; invasive species; mixed model; invasibility; turnover; carousel model; propagule pressure; invasion resistance; resource fluctuation; diversity; hierarchical data
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