Toward a More Integrative Approach to Quantifying the Ecological Impacts of Invasive Plants

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Virginia Tech


Invasive species are reported as one of the top current and future concerns for the health and functioning of native ecosystems. In response, identification of invasive plant impacts are one of the top most studied aspects of plant invasions. Yet we still know very little about invasive plant impacts, and many land managers remove invasive plants not because of known negative impacts, but because of the general negative connotation associated with invasions. Here, I develop and utilize integrative methods to more holistically measure the ecological impacts of invasive plants. I develop a meta-analysis of current invasive plant impact literature, I integrate independent ecosystem metrics into holistic measures of total ecological impact, I examine the potential for legacy and temporal effects in newly established and recently managed invasions, and I measure ecological impact of co-invaded ecosystems. Through these studies, I find that magnitude, and not direction, of impact better represents actual ecosystem changes when evaluating invasions holistically. I also find invasive plant management may not only fail to remove long term legacy effects, but may in some cases further negatively impact the plant community. Finally, I find that co-invaded systems are not intrinsically worse off than single invaded systems. Collectively, these studies help to better our understanding of the impacts of invasive plants and their implications for management, and show that simple attempts at eradication may not always be desirable.



Ecological impact, invasive species, Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum