Recruitment dynamics of invasive species in rainforest habitats following Cyclone Larry

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Abstract only: Austral Ecology, Ecological Society of Australia, Volume 33, Issue 4 June 2008, Pages 495-502
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Recruitment dynamics of invasive species in rainforest habitats following Cyclone Larry

In tropical forests, natural disturbance creates opportunities for species to claim previously utilized space and resources and is considered an important mechanism in the maintenance of species diversity. However, ecologists have long recognized that disturbance also promotes exotic plant invasions. Cyclones cause extensive defoliation, loss of major branches and multiple tree falls, resulting in a significantly more open canopy and increased light and heat levels in the understorey. The widespread and massive disturbance caused by cyclones provides ideal conditions for rapid recruitment and spread of invasive species. The ecological roles of invasive species in rainforest habitats following such a severe disturbance are poorly understood. Severe category 4 Cyclone Larry crossed the North Queensland coast in March 2006 causing massive disturbance to rainforest habitats from Tully to Cairns and west to the Atherton Tablelands. We established 10 plots in an area extensively damaged by this cyclone near El Arish in North Queensland. On each plot nine 2×2 m quadrats were established with three quadrats per plot in each of the following treatments: (i) complete debris removal down to the soil layer, (ii) removal of coarse woody debris only, and (iii) uncleared. We monitored recruitment, growth and mortality of all native and invasive species in the 90 quadrats every 3 months since the cyclone. Here we present the recruitment dynamics of invasive species across the study area in relation to the level of disturbance, the type of quadrat treatment, and the diversity and abundance of the native recruiting flora over the first 12 months post?cyclone. Our results suggest that invasive species will mostly comprise a transient component of the flora in the early stages of the successional response. However, some species may have longer?term effects on the successional trajectory of the rainforest and future forest composition and structure.

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