The invasive tree, Ailanthus altissima, impacts understory nativity, not seedbank nativity
Ailanthus altissima, the invasive forest tree commonly known as the tree-of-heaven, has been associated with decreased levels of plant species richness and native species diversity. However, this relationship with resident plants has been inconsistently found and the tree's influence on the seedbank has yet to be studied. To further understand the long-term impact of this tree, ten paired invaded-uninvaded sites were identified in Virginia, USA in a variety of different-aged stands. The herbaceous and woody understories for each plot were inventoried and soil samples were collected and grown out for 34 weeks in a greenhouse. All plants were identified to the most detailed taxonomic level possible. In total, 35 woody understory species, 62 herbaceous understory taxa, and 77 seedbank taxa were identified. The relationship between A. altissima presence and i) the proportion of individual plants that are native, ii) the proportion of species that are native, iii) the native diversity, and iv) the nonnative diversity were analyzed. In addition, models including the invasion age were also considered. We show that A. altissima invasions were associated with a decrease in the proportion of native plants and species in the understory, but not in the seedbank. Nonnative woody diversity also increased with A. altissima presence. Additionally, the impact on the nativity of the woody understory became more extreme over time. We end by discussing the benefits of both managing A. altissima invasions early to limit its overall impact and including the management of other nonnative plants in A. altissima restoration plans.