Journal Article

Functional Stability of Vegetation Following Biocontrol of an Invasive Riparian Shrub

Date: 2023/02/23

Author(s): Henry A.L., González-Sargas E., Shafroth P.B., Goetz A.R., Sher A.A.

Publication: Biological Invasions, v. 25, p. 1133-1147


DOI: 10.1007/s10530-022-02967-4


Understanding plant community response to environmental change is a crucial aspect of biological conservation and restoration, but species-based approaches are limited in that they do not reveal the underlying mechanisms driving vegetation dynamics. An understanding of trait-environment relationships is particularly important in the case of invasive species which may alter abiotic conditions and available resources. This study is the first to measure the functional response of riparian plant communities to biocontrol of an invasive species. We focused on an invasive shrub, Tamarix (saltcedar), that is defoliated by a beetle that was released by the US Department of Agriculture along the Upper Colorado River (southwestern United States). We calculated community weighted means and functional dispersion of individual traits, multivariate functional dispersion and species diversity. We used linear mixed effect models (LME) to compare these metrics at paired vegetation patches dominated and not dominated by Tamarix during cycles of defoliation and refoliation over eight years. We found that community-weighted average trait values, species diversity and functional dispersion changed little in response to defoliation, and instead seemed to be responding to fluctuations in yearly precipitation. Average height and seed weight were greater in Tamarix-dominated patches relative to control patches. Functional dispersion followed a similar trajectory to species diversity, but was a more sensitive indicator of plant community change. We showed that riparian vegetation can be resilient to Tamarix biocontrol, and that defoliation might not necessarily always lead to substantial changes in ecosystem function.