Effects of Nonnative Ungulate Removal on Plant Communities and Soil Biogeochemistry in Tropical Forests

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Rebecca J Cole1, Creighton McMaster Litton1, Christian P Giardina2 and Jed P Sparks3, (1)University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States, (2)USDA Forest Service, Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, Hilo, HI, United States, (3)Cornell Univ, Ithaca, NY, United States
Non-native ungulates have substantial impacts on native ecosystems globally, altering both plant communities and soil biogeochemistry. Across tropical and temperate ecosystems, land managers fence and remove non-native ungulates to conserve native biodiversity, a costly management action, yet long-term outcomes are not well quantified. Specifically, knowledge gaps include: (i) the magnitude and time frame of plant community recovery; (ii) the response of non-native invasive plants; and (iii) changes to soil biogeochemistry. In 2010, we established a series of paired ungulate presence vs. removal plots that span a 20 yr. chronosequence in tropical montane wet forests on the Island of Hawaii to quantify the impacts and temporal legacy of feral pig removal on plant communities and soil biogeochemistry. We also compared soil biogeochemistry in targeted areas of low and high feral pig impact. Our work shows that both native and non-native vegetation respond positively to release from top-down control following removal of feral pigs, but species of high conservation concern recover only if initially present at the time of non-native ungulate removal. Feral pig impacts on soil biogeochemistry appear to last for at least 20 years following ungulate removal. We observed that both soil physical and chemical properties changed with feral pig removal. Soil bulk density and volumetric water content decreased while extractable base cations and inorganic N increased in low vs. high feral pig impact areas. We hypothesize that altered soil biogeochemistry facilitates continued invasions by non-native plants, even decades after non-native ungulate removal. Future work will concentrate on comparisons between wet and dry forest ecosystems and test whether manipulation of soil nutrients can be used to favor native vs. non-native plant establishment.