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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

Soil-mediated indirect impacts of an invasive predator on plant growth

Wardle DA, Bellingham PJ, Fukami T, Bonner KI


While several studies have shown that invasive plant effects on soil biota influence subsequent plant performance, corresponding studies on how invasive animals affect plants through influencing soil biota are lacking. This is despite the fact that invasive animals often indirectly alter the below-ground subsystem. We studied 18 offshore islands in northern New Zealand, half of which have been invaded by rats that are predators of seabirds and severely reduce their densities, and half of which remain non-invaded; invasion of rats thwarts seabird transfer of resources from ocean to land. We used soil from each island in a glasshouse experiment involving soil sterilization treatments to determine whether rat invasion indirectly influences plant growth through the abiotic pathway (by impairing seabird-driven inputs to soil) or the biotic pathway (by altering the soil community). Rat invasion greatly impaired plant growth but entirely through the abiotic pathway. Plant growth was unaffected by the soil community or its response to invasion, meaning that the responses of plants and soil biota to invasion are decoupled. Our results provide experimental evidence for the powerful indirect effects that predator-instigated cascades can exert on plant and ecosystem productivity, with implications for the restoration of island ecosystems by predator removal.

Published in

Biology Letters
2012, Volume: 8, number: 4, pages: 574-577

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    Forest Science

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