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Concept: Invasive species


The viability of many species has been jeopardized by numerous negative factors over the centuries, but climate change is predicted to accelerate and increase the pressure of many of these threats, leading to extinctions. The Hawaiian honeycreepers, famous for their spectacular adaptive radiation, are predicted to experience negative responses to climate change, given their susceptibility to introduced disease, the strong linkage of disease distribution to climatic conditions, and their current distribution. We document the rapid collapse of the native avifauna on the island of Kaua'i that corresponds to changes in climate and disease prevalence. Although multiple factors may be pressuring the community, we suggest that a tipping point has been crossed in which temperatures in forest habitats at high elevations have reached a threshold that facilitates the development of avian malaria and its vector throughout these species' ranges. Continued incursion of invasive weeds and non-native avian competitors may be facilitated by climate change and could also contribute to declines. If current rates of decline continue, we predict multiple extinctions in the coming decades. Kaua'i represents an early warning for the forest bird communities on the Maui and Hawai'i islands, as well as other species around the world that are trapped within a climatic space that is rapidly disappearing.

Concepts: Hawaii, Climate, Climate change, Atmospheric pressure, Invasive species, Hawaiian Islands, Island, Hawaiian language


BACKGROUND: Biodiversity loss and species invasions are among the most important human-induced global changes. Moreover, these two processes are interlinked as ecosystem invasibility is considered to increase with decreasing biodiversity. In temperate grasslands, earthworms serve as important ecosystem engineers making up the majority of soil faunal biomass. Herbivore behaviour has been shown to be affected by earthworms, however it is unclear whether these effects differ with the composition of plant communities. To test this we conducted a mesocosm experiment where we added earthworms (Annelida: Lumbricidae) to planted grassland communities with different plant species composition (3 vs. 12 plant spp.). Plant communities had equal plant densities and ratios of the functional groups grasses, non-leguminous forbs and legumes. Later, Arion vulgaris slugs (formerly known as A. lusitanicus; Gastropoda: Arionidae) were added and allowed to freely choose among the available plant species. This slug species is listed among the 100 worst alien species in Europe. We hypothesized that (i) the food choice of slugs would be altered by earthworms' specific effects on the growth and nutrient content of plant species, (ii) slug herbivory will be less affected by earthworms in plant communities containing more plant species than in those with fewer plant species because of a more readily utilization of plant resources making the impacts of earthworms less pronounced. RESULTS: Slug herbivory was significantly affected by both earthworms and plant species composition. Slugs damaged 60% less leaves when earthworms were present, regardless of the species composition of the plant communities. Percent leaf area consumed by slugs was 40% lower in communities containing 12 plant species; in communities containing only three species earthworms increased slug leaf area consumption. Grasses were generally avoided by slugs. Leaf length and number of tillers was increased in mesocosms containing more plant species but little influenced by earthworms. Overall shoot biomass was decreased, root biomass increased in plant communities with more plant species. Earthworms decreased total shoot biomass in mesocosms with more plant species but did not affect biomass production of individual functional groups. Plant nitrogen concentrations across three focus species were 18% higher when earthworms were present; composition of plant communities did not affect plant quality. CONCLUSIONS: Given the important role that both herbivores and earthworms play in structuring plant communities the implications of belowground-aboveground linkages should more broadly be considered when investigating global change effects on ecosystems.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Plant, Animal, Affect, Grassland, Herbivore, Earthworm, Invasive species


Whether introduced species invasions pose a major threat to biodiversity is hotly debated. Much of this debate is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced organisms has driven remarkably few plant species to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often found in refugia: patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their nonnative competitors. However, whether the colonization and extinction dynamics of these refugia allow long-term native persistence is uncertain. Of particular concern is the possibility that invasive plants may induce an extinction debt in the native flora, where persistence over the short term masks deterministic extinction trajectories. We examined how invader impacts on landscape structure influence native plant persistence by combining recently developed quantitative techniques for evaluating metapopulation persistence with field measurements of an invaded plant community. We found that European grass invasion of an edaphically heterogeneous California landscape has greatly decreased the likelihood of the persistence of native metapopulations. It does so via two main pathways: (i) decreasing the size of native refugia, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction, and (ii) eroding the dispersal permeability of the matrix between refugia, which reduces their connectivity. Even when native plant extinction is the deterministic outcome of invasion, the time to extinction can be on the order of hundreds of years. We conclude that the relatively short time since invasion in many parts of the world is insufficient to observe the full impact of plant invasions on native biodiversity.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Term, Extinction, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography, Habitat fragmentation


Harmonia axyridis has been introduced as a biological control agent in Europe and the USA. Since its introduction, it has established and spread, and it is now regarded as an invasive alien species. It has been suggested that intraguild predation is especially important for the invasion success of H. axyridis. The aim of this study was to compare the intraguild predation behaviour of three ladybird species (Coccinella septempunctata, Adalia bipunctata, and H. axyridis). Predation behaviour was investigated in semi-field experiments on small lime trees (Tilia platyphyllos). Two fourth-instar larvae placed on a tree rarely made contact during 3-hour observations. When placed together on a single leaf in 23%-43% of the observations at least one contact was made. Of those contacts 0%-27% resulted in an attack. Harmonia axyridis attacked mostly heterospecifics, while A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata attacked heterospecifics as often as conspecifics. In comparison with A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata, H. axyridis was the most successful intraguild predator as it won 86% and 44% of heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata respectively, whilst A. bipunctata won none of the heterospecific battles and C. septempunctata won only the heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata. Coccinella septempunctata dropped from a leaf earlier and more often than the other two species but was in some cases able to return to the tree, especially under cloudy conditions. The frequency with which a species dropped did not depend on the species the larva was paired with. The results of these semi-field experiments confirm that H. axyridis is a strong intraguild predator as a consequence of its aggressiveness and good defence against predation from heterospecific species. The fact that H. axyridis is such a strong intraguild predator helps to explain its successful establishment as invasive alien species in Europe and the USA.

Concepts: Biological pest control, Invasive species, Introduced species, Coccinellidae, Harmonia axyridis, Tilia, Coccinella septempunctata, Biological pest control agents


The calcareous sponge Paraleucilla magna, originally observed along the Brazilian coast (Atlantic Ocean), is the only allochthonous invasive species of Porifera reported in the Mediterranean Sea. A 1-year investigation of the population dynamics and life-cycle of this exotic species in the Mar Piccolo di Taranto (southern Italy, central Mediterranean Sea) has provided a good opportunity to test how environmental variations can influence its life-cycle and to ascertain what strategy can be adopted to successfully colonize a new environment. In the Mar Piccolo di Taranto, P. magna exhibits marked temporal changes in biomass. The studied specimens reproduce almost all year round, showing a seasonal pattern that peaks during warm months. This prolonged sexual activity allows P. magna to continuously produce young specimens, with repeated recruitment events taking place throughout the year, thus offsetting the seasonal mortality of adult specimens. This r-strategy enables the non-indigenous sponge to achieve a high degree of maintenance over relatively long periods (ten years at least).

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Ocean, Italy, Invasive species, Marine debris, Introduced species


The Tijuana River Valley is the first natural habitat in California to be substantially invaded by the Kuroshio Shot Hole Borer (KSHB, Euwallacea sp.), an ambrosia beetle native to Southeast Asia. This paper documents the distribution of the KSHB in the riparian vegetation in the valley and assesses the damage done to the vegetation as of early 2016, approximately six months after the beetle was first observed in the valley. I divided the riparian habitats into 29 survey units so that the vegetation within each unit was relatively homogenous in terms of plant species composition, age and density. From a random point within each unit, I examined approximately 60 individuals of the dominant plant species for evidence of KSHB infestation and evidence of major damage such as limb breakage. In the 22 forested units,I examined the dominant arroyo and black willows (Salix lasiolepis Benth. and S. gooddingii C.R. Ball), and in the seven scrub units, I examined mule fat (Baccharis salicifolia (Ruiz & Pav.) Pers.). Evidence of KSHB infestation was found in 25 of the 29 units. In the forest units, infestation rates ranged from 0 to 100% and were high (>60%) in 16 of the units. In the scrub units, infestation rates ranged from 0 to 33%. Infestation rates were significantly correlated with the wetness of a unit; wetter units had higher infestation rates. Evidence of major physical damage was found in 24 units, and dense stands of willows were reduced to broken trunks in several areas. Overall, I estimated that more than 280,000 (70%) of the willows in the valley were infested, and more than 140,000 had suffered major limb damage. In addition, I recorded evidence of KSHB infestation in the other common plant species in the valley; of the 23 species examined, 14 showed evidence of beetle attack. The four species with the highest rates of infestation were native trees in the Salicaceae family. The three species considered to be the worst invasive plants in the valley, Ricinus communis L., Tamarix ramosissima Ledeb. and Arundo donax L., had low rates of infestation. Several findings from this study have significance for resource managers: (1) the KSHB attack caused extensive mortality of trees soon after being first discovered so, if managers are to control the spread of the beetle, they will need to develop an effective early detection and rapid response program; (2) infestation rates were highest in units that were wet, so resource managers trying to detect the beetle in other areas should thoroughly search trees near water, particularly nutrient-enriched water; (3) the infestation appears to be a novel form of disturbance, and the affected forests may need special management actions in order to recover; and (4) the infestation has altered the structure of the forest canopy, and this is likely to promote the growth of invasive plant species that were relatively inconspicuous in the forests prior to the beetle attack but will now need more attention.

Concepts: Riparian zone, Willow, Invasive species, Arundo donax, Baccharis


Invasive species can alter coastal ecosystems both directly, e.g. through competition for substratum and nutrients, and indirectly. Indirect effects may be mediated by creation of dissimilar or inimical habitats, changes in predator and/or prey assemblages, alterations in associated biota, and perturbations of water movement and thermal regimes. Previous studies have shown that invasive algae can modify native habitat architecture, disrupt intricately linked food webs and alter epibiotic assemblages. In the UK, the seagrass Zostera marina supports a diverse epibiotic assemblage, influencing key factors such as sediment dynamics, depositional regime and trophic linkages. Increasing encroachment of the invasive alga Sargassum muticum into seagrass meadows changes the physical and chemical characteristics of the local environment and creates the potential for changes in the epibionts associated with the seagrass blades, threatening the integrity of the seagrass ecosystem. We investigated the effects of S. muticum invasion upon the epibiota of Z. marina in a drowned river valley in SW England seasonally from spring to autumn over four years in an in-situ manipulative experiment, comparing permanent quadrats with and without artificially introduced S. muticum. Epibiota were weighed, identified to the most detailed operational taxonomic unit (OTU) possible, and unitary organisms were enumerated. Multivariate PERMANOVA+ analysis revealed significant differences in epibiont assemblages between Sargassum treatments. Linear mixed effects models indicated that differences in epibiota assemblage composition were not reflected as significant differences in mean biomass per sample, or number of epibiont OTUs per sample. We conclude that S. muticum invasion into Z. marina meadows may significantly alter the species composition and abundance distribution of epibiotic assemblages found on the blades of the seagrass. Thus S. muticum invasion could have more wide-reaching effects on processes within coastal ecosystems than predicted purely by direct effects.

Concepts: Ecology, Ecosystem, Invasive species, Introduced species, Zostera, Seagrass, Zosteraceae, Sargassum


Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are known to increase water clarity and affect ecosystem processes in invaded lakes. During the last decade, the conspecific quagga mussels (D. rostriformis bugensis) have displaced zebra mussels in many ecosystems including shallow lakes such as Oneida Lake, New York. In this study, an eight-week mesocosm experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that the displacement of zebra mussels by quagga mussels leads to further decreases in phytoplankton and increases in water clarity resulting in increases in benthic algae. We found that the presence of zebra mussels alone (ZM), quagga mussels alone (QM), or an equal number of both species (ZQ) reduced total phosphorus (TP) and phytoplankton Chl a. Total suspended solids (TSS) was reduced in ZM and ZQ treatments. Light intensity at the sediment surface was higher in all three mussel treatments than in the no-mussel controls but there was no difference among the mussel treatments. There was no increase in benthic algae biomass in the mussel treatments compared with the no-mussel controls. Importantly, there was no significant difference in nutrient (TP, soluble reactive phosphorus and NO3-) levels, TSS, phytoplankton Chl a, benthic algal Chl a, or light intensity on the sediment surface between ZM, QM and ZQ treatments. These results confirm the strong effect of both mussel species on water clarity and indicate that the displacement of zebra mussel by an equivalent biomass of quagga mussel is not likely to lead to further increases in water clarity, at least for the limnological conditions, including summer temperature, tested in this experiment.

Concepts: Invasive species, Mussel, Great Lakes, Zebra mussel, Quagga mussel, Dreissenidae, Dreissena, Lake Erie


Two Bidens species (Bidens pilosa and B. bipinnata) that originate from America have been introduced widely in pan-tropics, with the former regarded as a noxious invasive weed whereas the latter naturalized as a plant resource. Whether the two species exhibit different effects on the belowground system remains rarely studied. This study was conducted to investigate soil microbial carbon © utilization, enzyme activities and available nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium contents under the two species in a subtropical garden soil of southern China under different levels of light intensity. Results showed that the microbial C utilization and enzyme activities were not significantly different under the two species, implying that the strong invasiveness of B. pilosa could not be due to the plant-soil microbe interactions, at least plant-induced alterations of microbial community function to utilize C substrates. Alternatively, available soil nitrogen and potassium contents were significantly higher under B. pilosa than under B. bipinnata in full sun, indicating that the strong invasiveness of B. pilosa could result from rapid nutrient mobilizations by B. pilosa. However, the differences turned non-significant as light intensity decreased, suggesting that light availability could substantially alter the plant effects on soil nutrient mobilizations.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Enzyme, Eukaryote, Plant, Soil, Invasive species, Bidens


Centaurea solstitialis L. (yellow starthistle, Asteraceae) is a Eurasian native plant introduced as an exotic into North and South America, and Australia, where it is regarded as a noxious invasive. Changes in ploidy level have been found to be responsible for numerous plant biological invasions, as they are involved in trait shifts critical to invasive success, like increased growth rate and biomass, longer life-span, or polycarpy. C. solstitialis had been reported to be diploid (2n = 2x = 16 chromosomes), however, actual data are scarce and sometimes contradictory. We determined for the first time the absolute nuclear DNA content by flow cytometry and estimated ploidy level in 52 natural populations of C. solstitialis across its native and non-native ranges, around the world. All the C. solstitialis populations screened were found to be homogeneously diploid (average 2C value of 1.72 pg, SD = ±0.06 pg), with no significant variation in DNA content between invasive and non-invasive genotypes. We did not find any meaningful difference among the extensive number of native and non-native C. solstitialis populations sampled around the globe, indicating that the species invasive success is not due to changes in genome size or ploidy level.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Biology, Flow cytometry, Invasive species, Centaurea solstitialis, Centaurea, Centaurea calcitrapa