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Effects of Acer platanoides invasion on understory plant communities and tree regeneration in the northern Rocky Mountains

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Quantitative studies are necessary to determine whether invasive plant species displace natives and reduce local biodiversity, or if they increase local biodiversity. Here we describe the effects of invasion by Norway maple Acer platanoides on riparian plant communities and tree regeneration at two different scales (individual tree vs stand scales) in western Montana, USA, using both descriptive and experimental approaches. The three stands differed in community composition with the stand most dominated by A. platanoides invasion being more compositionally homogenous, and less species rich (−67%), species even (−40%), and diverse (−75%) than the two other stands. This sharp decrease in community richness and diversity of the highly invaded stand, relative to the other stands, corresponded with a 28-fold increase in A. platanoides seedlings and saplings. The dramatic difference between stand 1 vs 2 and 3 suggests that A. platanoides invasion is associated with a dramatic change in community composition and local loss of species diversity; however, other unaccounted for differences between stands may be the cause. These whole-stand correlations were corroborated by community patterns under individual A. platanoides trees in a stand with intermediate levels of patchy invasion. At the scale of individual A. platanoides canopies within a matrix of native trees, diversity and richness of species beneath solitary A. platanoides trees declined as the size of the trees increased. These decreases in native community properties corresponded with an increase in the density of A. platanoides seedlings. The effect of A. platanoides at the stand scale was more dramatic than at the individual canopy scale; however, at this smaller scale we only collected data from the stand with intermediate levels of invasion and not from the stand with high levels of invasion. Transplant experiments with tree seedlings demonstrated that A. platanoides seedlings performed better when grown beneath conspecific canopies than under natives, but Populus and Pinus seedlings performed better when grown beneath Populus canopies, the dominant native. Our results indicate that A. platanoides trees suppress most native species, including the regeneration of the natural canopy dominants, but facilitate conspecifics in their understories.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2005

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