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The effects of herbivory, competition, and disturbance on island meadows Gonzales, Emily Kristianne

Abstract

It is an unresolved paradox that non-native species are successful in novel environments whereas native species, presumably adapted to that environment, decline. This knowledge gap has persisted because third party processes in invasion ecology have been overlooked. Ungulate densities are increasing due to the eradication of predators and landscape change and I asked how herbivory and invasion might interact to cause declines of native species. In Garry oak meadows, Canada’s most endangered ecosystem, native forbs have declined relative to non-native grasses and I tested the facilitatory role of herbivory in that degradation. My investigations, novel to the field, were conducted on islands spanning the Canada-US border. Islands served as natural experimental units in a mensurative study of abundance patterns in seven plant groups and 15 focal species along gradients of herbivory, biogeography, soil depth, and human activities. Increasing ungulate densities were related to declines in abundances of native forbs, and increasing abundances of non-native annual grasses. These regional patterns were upheld by two plot-based, 2x2 factorial experiments that contrasted the fitness of native species under manipulations of herbivory and competition for light. Specifically, I showed that ungulates limited the establishment, growth, survival and reproduction of seedlings and transplanted native forbs and shrubs and that competition from non-native species had little effect. I also calculated forage selectivity indices and tested the efficacy of fencing and cutting to reduce competition, for the restoration of native community biomass. Non-native annual grasses were rarely browsed and increased with increasing ungulate density. Non-native perennial grasses declined with herbivory, however, their regional abundances were unaffected by ungulate density despite being preferentially foraged. That non-native annual and perennial grasses differed in their responses to herbivory has consequences for restoration and illustrates the challenge of developing a comprehensive theory of invasion. Reducing ungulates, necessary for the recovery of native forbs, also benefits non-native perennial grasses and therefore their removal speed recovery of Garry oak meadows. Despite advances in invasion ecology, scientists and managers are disconnected and research is rarely implemented. I conclude by proposing seven solutions to facilitate the integration of science into management.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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