The intermediate disturbance hypothesis and plant invasions: implications for species richness and management

A new paper in Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics examines the relationship between the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH) and alien plant invasions. IDH predicts a hump-shaped pattern between community diversity and disturbance, and is central to understanding patterns of species diversity across the globe. As such, it can offer insight into the role of disturbance in facilitating plant invasions and the effect of these invasions on floristic diversity.

To explore the IDH-invasion relationship, Qaecologist Jane Catford and colleagues address two questions in this paper: in accordance with IDH, 1) at what disturbance frequencies is alien plant colonisation most likely and why, and 2) where along the disturbance continuum (at which successional stage) are alien plants likely to reduce community diversity and why? They use understanding of community and invasion ecology to answer these questions. They support their arguments with empirical evidence from a variety of terrestrial ecosystems and include disturbance types that range from livestock grazing to floods to volcanic eruptions.

Figure 1

Figure 1. In early stages of invasion, the addition of alien species combined with human disturbance extends the IDH curve and augments species richness in high disturbance sites; it does not reduce native diversity. Early stages of invasion focus on colonisation and include introduction and naturalisation sensu Richardson et al., (2000). Grey shading indicates pre-invasion community species diversity under the historical disturbance regime; lines indicate diversity post-invasion and post-anthropogenic disturbance: solid black line, community diversity; dotted black line, alien diversity; solid grey line, native diversity.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Once established, invasive alien species able to persist into late successional stages may displace more than one native species causing a shift and reduction in peak diversity. Numbers indicate the mechanism that causes a reduction in diversity – 1: niche pre-emption, 2: apparent competition, 3: interference competition, 4: exploitative competition. 5: transformation of the environment; grey arrows indicate position along the disturbance gradient where mechanisms have greatest effect. Other details as in Fig. 1.

This leads them to the following con-clusions:

Early stages of succession are most susceptible to invasion because resources and colonisation opportunities are elevated after disturbance (Fig. 1). This trend is accentuated by human-mediated dispersal, a bias towards early successional species in the alien species pool, the tendency for fast-growing species to profit most from enemy release, and increased disturbance levels in human-modified habitats. Human dist-urbance, coupled with plant introductions, extends the diversity–disturbance curve and shifts peak diversity towards higher disturbance levels. However, invasive aliens can reduce native diversity, especially in mid succession where competitive interactions structure communities (Fig. 2). Certain invasive plants may have higher impacts because they overcome some life history tradeoffs as a result of their association with humans or novel evolutionary histories, e.g. enemy release. This may directly or indirectly (e.g. through plastic reallocation of resources from defence into growth) enable invasive plants to colonise earlier or persist into later stages of succession. By modifying disturbance regimes, invaders that transform the environment may also interfere with succession and precipitate low diversity communities. Low intro-duction rates of late successional species may currently limit impacts of aliens under infrequent disturbance.

IDH is a useful framework for understanding ecological communities. However, because of the novel evolutionary histories of alien species and the anthropogenic context in which they invade, disturbance levels that maximise total diversity in invaded communities can differ from those that maximise native diversity. Joint consideration of IDH and alien invasion patterns suggests a range of strategies can be used to manage diversity.

You can find details of the paper here:

Catford, J.A., Daehler, C.C., Murphy, H.T., Sheppard, A.W., Hardesty, B.D., Westcott, D.A., Rejmánek, M., Bellingham, P.J., Pergl, J., Horvitz, C.C. & Hulme, P.E. (2012) The intermediate disturbance hypothesis and plant invasions: Implications for species richness and management. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. Online early.

If you’d like a copy, please email Jane.

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2 Responses to The intermediate disturbance hypothesis and plant invasions: implications for species richness and management

  1. Pingback: New paper: The intermediate disturbance hypothesis and plant invasions: implications for species richness and management | Jane Catford's Research

  2. Pingback: Wildlife Update : Invasive non-native species attack! | LEARN FROM NATURE

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