Restoration ecology of ecosystems invaded by Triadica sebifera (Chinese tallow tree): theory and practice
Doctor of Philosophy
Invasive exotic species threaten biodiversity and ecosystem functions globally, creating need for and encumbering ecological restoration. When restoring exotic plant-dominated ecosystems, reinvasion pressure is the rate of new exotic recruitment following mature exotic removal. It can vary broadly among similarly invaded habitats and is crucial to restoration outcomes and costs, but is difficult to predict and poorly understood. Initial results from the experimental restoration of a wetland dominated by Triadica sebifera led us to develop the ‘outgrow the stress’ hypothesis. It holds: (1) Variation in reinvasion pressure is driven by differences in propagule abundance and spatiotemporal availability of realized recruitment windows, which are defined by abiotic conditions and biotic interactions. (2) Differences in reinvasion pressure become masked by exotic dominance when increases in niche breadth during development enable exotic persistence across sites where recruitment windows range from frequent to episodic. We validated this hypothesis. First, we used greenhouse and field experiments to quantify Triadica’s moisture niche early in development. By two months post-germination, seedling tolerances broadened to include conditions unsuitable for germination. This clearly demonstrated a rapid ontogenetic niche expansion, which could decouple mature Triadica density and average reinvasion pressure. Second, we used a greenhouse mesocosm experiment to quantify how recruitment window duration, competition and fertility impacted population-level Triadica establishment in stressful environments. As ‘outgrow the stress’ predicts, longer windows increased Triadica success and multi-factor interactions were common, with competition and fertility effects varying among environmental contexts. Third, we substantiated predictions of ‘outgrow the stress’ regarding propagule availability and soil moisture by manipulating these in a multi-site field experiment spanning eleven experimental restorations of Triadica-dominated habitats along a moisture gradient. Triadica reinvasion pressure varied broadly among sites but correlated with moisture and fertility. Propagule availability drove reinvasion in favorable environments, but availability of suitable conditions trumped propagules in extreme environments. Competition reduced Triadica performance and sometimes survival. Triadica prevalence reduced native plant prevalence. Six restorations require minimal Triadica management for success. This work advances our understanding and enables better predictions of reinvasion pressure and invasions in general. Accurate predictions enhance restoration efficiency by informing site selection and optimal management strategies.
Community ecology; Restoration; Invasive species; Texas; Wetlands; More... Grasslands; Ontogenetic niche shifts; Recruitment limitation; Propagule availability; Niche; Abiotic conditions; Climate; Competition; Interspecific interactions; Seed addition; Coastal prairies; Exotic plant management; Optimal control Less...