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Title: Long term impacts of invasive grasses and subsequent fire in seasonally dry Hawaiian woodlands

Author: D’Antonio, Carla M.; Hughes, Flint; Tunison, J. T.;

Date: 2011

Source: Ecological Applications 21(5):1617-1628

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Invasive nonnative grasses have altered the composition of seasonally dry shrublands and woodlands throughout the world. In many areas they coexist with native woody species until fire occurs, after which they become dominant. Yet it is not clear how long their impacts persist in the absence of further fire. We evaluated the long-term impacts of grass invasions and subsequent fire in seasonally dry submontane habitats on Hawai‘i, USA. We recensused transects in invaded unburned woodland and woodland that had burned in exotic grass-fueled fires in 1970 and 1987 and had last been censused in 1991. In the unburned woodlands, we found that the dominant understory grass invader, Schizachyrium condensatum, had declined by ~40%, while native understory species were abundant and largely unchanged from measurements 17 years ago. In burned woodland, exotic grass cover also declined, but overall values remained high and recruitment of native species was poor. Sites that had converted to exotic grassland after a 1970 fire remained dominated by exotic grasses with no increase in native cover despite 37 years without fire. Grass-dominated sites that had burned twice also showed limited recovery despite 20 years of fire suppression. We found limited evidence for ‘‘invasional meltdown’’: Exotic richness remained low across burned sites, and the dominant species in 1991, Melinis minutiflora, is still dominant today. Twice-burned sites are, however, being invaded by the nitrogen-fixing tree Morella faya, an introduced species with the potential to greatly alter the successional trajectory on young volcanic soils. In summary, despite decades of fire suppression, native species show little recovery in burned Hawaiian woodlands. Thus, burned sites appear to be beyond a threshold for ‘‘natural recovery’’ (e.g., passive restoration).

Keywords: alien species, biological invasions, grass/fire cycle, Hawaiian dry forest, invader impacts, Melinis minutiflora, Morella faya, nitrogen limitation, plant succession, Schizachyrium condensatum

Publication Notes:

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D’Antonio, Carla M.; Hughes, R. F.; Tunison, J. T. 2011. Long term impacts of invasive grasses and subsequent fire in seasonally dry Hawaiian woodlands. Ecological Applications 21(5):1617-1628.


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