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Neighborhood models of the effects of invasive tree species on ecosystem processes

AuthorsGómez Aparicio, Lorena ; Canham, Charles D.
KeywordsAcer platanoides
Ailanthus altissima
Ecosystem processes
Exotic species
Neighborhood processes
Site dependency
Soil properties
Spatially explicit models
Issue DateFeb-2008
PublisherEcological Society of America
CitationEcological Monographs 78 (1): 69-86 (2008)
AbstractChanges in the composition of a community due to the invasion by exotic plant species can lead to modification of ecosystem function that, in turn, produces feedbacks that drive further changes in community composition. The development of predictive models of this process requires an understanding of the spatial extent of the impacts of the exotic species, particularly during early stages of invasion. The main objective of this study was to characterize the neighborhood dynamics of ecosystem transformations by the invasive tree species Norway maple (Acer platanoides L.) and tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima Mill.) in temperate forests of the northeastern United States. By using a neighborhood approach in multiple sites, we sought to determine (1) the magnitude and spatial extent of the effects of the two invasive species on soil properties and processes; (2) whether the effects of the invasive species were site dependent; and (3) the differences in the effects of invasive versus native tree species on ecosystem processes. Our results showed that Norway maple and tree of heaven alter the functioning of temperate forest ecosystems even at relatively low densities by increasing cycling rates (i.e., net N mineralization, net nitrification, Ca mineralization) and nutrient availability (i.e., pH, Ca, Mg, K, N). At the neighborhood scale, the spatial extent of the impact of the two species varied strikingly among soil properties. Moreover, the neighborhood effects of the two invasive species were site dependent, with the magnitude of the impact increasing with soil fertility. At the community level, Norway maple and to a lesser extent tree of heaven had stronger effect on soils than any of the dominant native tree species considered. We conclude that the invasion of northeastern forests by Norway maple and tree of heaven is characterized by predictable, neighborhood-specific acceleration of nutrient cycling rates and localized increases in nutrient pools. These ecosystem alterations have enormous potential for the modi. cation of competitive hierarchies in forest communities. In particular, Norway maple and tree of heaven may change relative abundances within the native community to the benefit of native species that are more competitive on nutrient rich sites.
Description18 pages, 6 figures, 5 tables, 69 references. We are especially grateful to Patrick H. Martin for his collaboration throughout each phase of this project. We thank Star Child, James McCardle and the staff of the IES analytical laboratory for their help with the sampling collection and analyses. Peter Groffman, Lynn Christenson, Lisa Martel and David Lewis offered invaluable help with the microbial analyses. We thank the Dark Entry Forest Association, the Childs family and Nancy Nichols for permission to do research in their properties.
Publisher version (URL)DOI: 10.1890/06-2036.1
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