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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Indirect effects of invasive predators on litter decomposition and nutrient resorption on seabird-dominated islands

Wardle, David A.; Bellingham, Peter J.; Bonner, Karen I.; Mulder, Christa P. H.


Despite recent interest in the ecosystem impacts of invasive aboveground organisms, most work in this area has focused on effects of invasive plants, and the effects of invasive herbivores and predators remain poorly understood. We studied 18 forested, offshore islands in northern New Zealand. Nine of these host high densities of burrowing seabirds that serve as ecosystem drivers by transporting nutrients from the ocean to land. The other nine have been invaded over the past 50-150 years by rat species introduced from Europe which serve as predators of seabird eggs and chicks and severely reduce their densities. We collected fully expanded leaves and fresh leaf litter from invaded and uninvaded islands for each of 12 perennial plant species that represent a wide spectrum of life forms from ground dwelling to emergent canopy species. We found that, across these species, invasion by rats significantly reduced nitrogen (N) but not phosphorus (P) concentrations of foliage and litter, promoted N but not P resorption from leaves before litter fall, and reduced the release of N but not P from decomposing litter. Rat invasion also negatively affected litter decomposability but had no overall effects on litter quality variables other than N. Our results provide evidence that rat invasion causes more conservative cycling of N but not P through foliage and litter and limitation of ecological processes by N but not P. We found few instances in which the effects of rat invasion on response variables varied significantly across plant species, meaning that invasion had similar effects for species that varied greatly in growth form and foliar and litter quality. Further, correlation analyses across the 12 species showed that foliar and litter quality traits were poor predictors of how invasion effects on resorption and decomposition variables varied among species. Our results show that the effects of invasive predators on native prey can have substantial indirect effects on variables relevant for ecosystem functioning. These types of effects are probably widespread, especially given the role of seabirds in improving soil fertility in many coastal ecosystems worldwide and the wide global distribution of predators of seabirds.


biological invasion; invasive predators; litter decomposition; New Zealand; nutrient resorption; nutrient subsidies; rats; seabirds; trophic cascade

Published in

2009, Volume: 90, number: 2, pages: 452-464

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

    Publication identifier


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