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Effects of Long-Term Ungulate Exclusion and Recent Alien Species Control on the Preservation and Restoration of a Hawaiian Tropical Dry Forest

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Although the destruction of tropical rain forests receives much attention, tropical dry forests are in general far more threatened and endangered. Eliminating grazing ungulates is often considered a key first step toward protecting these ecosystems, but few studies have investigated the long-term effects of this technique. We examined the effects of ungulate exclusion from a 2.3-ha native dry-forest preserve on the island of Hawaii by comparing its present flora to the flora of an adjacent area subjected to continuous grazing since the preserve was fenced over 40 years ago. Relative to this adjacent area, the fenced preserve contained a more diverse flora with substantially greater coverage of native overstory and understory species. Until recently, however, regeneration of native canopy trees within the preserve appears to have been thwarted by a dominant herbaceous cover of alien fountain grass (  Pennisetum setaceum) and predation by alien rodent species. Our results indicate that although ungulate exclusion may be a necessary and critical first step, it is not sufficient to adequately preserve and maintain Hawaii's remaining tropical dry forest remnants. Our recent efforts to control the dominant alien species within the fenced preserve suggest that this practice may facilitate both the regeneration of native species and the colonization and potential invasion of new alien plants. Comparisons of seedlings of the dominant native canopy tree Diospyros sandwicensis growing in sites both dominated by and free of fountain grass suggested that fountain grass inhibits Diospyros seedling growth and photosynthesis but may increase survival if seedlings are protected from ungulates.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: U.S. Forest Service, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, 23 E. Kawili Street, Hilo, HI 96720, U.S.A., 2: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717, U.S.A. 3: National Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai, HI 96765, U.S.A. 4: Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305–5020, U.S.A.

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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