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The role of microtopography and resident species in post-disturbance recovery of arid habitats in Hawaiʻi

June 13, 2022

Habitat-suitability indices (HSI) have been employed in restoration to identify optimal sites for planting native species. Often, HSI are based on abiotic variables and do not include biotic interactions, even though similar abiotic conditions can favor both native and nonnative species. Biotic interactions such as competition may be especially important in invader-dominated habitats because invasive species often have fast growth rates and can exploit resources quickly. In this study, we test the utility of an HSI of microtopography derived from airborne LiDAR to predict post-disturbance recovery and native planting success in native shrub-dominated and nonnative, invasive grass-dominated dryland habitats in Hawaiʻi. The HSI uses high-resolution digital terrain models to classify sites' microtopography as high, medium, or low suitability, based on wind exposure and topographic position. We used a split-plot before-after-control-impact design to implement a disturbance experiment within native shrub (Dodonaea viscosa) and nonnative, invasive grass (Cenchrus clandestinus)-dominated ecosystems across three microtopography categories. In contrast to previous studies using the same HSI, we found that microtopography was a poor predictor of pre-disturbance conditions for soil nutrients, organic matter content, or foliar C:N, within both Dodonaea and Cenchrus vegetation types. In invader-dominated Cenchrus plots, microtopography helped predict cover, but not as expected (i.e., highest cover would be in high-suitability plots): D. viscosa had the greatest cover in low-suitability and C. clandestinus had the greatest cover in medium-suitability plots. Similarly, in native-dominated Dodonaea plots, microtopography was a poor predictor of D. viscosa, C. clandestinus, and total plant cover. Although we found some evidence that microtopography helped inform post-disturbance plant recovery of D. viscosa and total plant cover, vegetation type was a more important predictor. Important for considering the success of plantings, percent cover of D. viscosa decreased while percent cover of C. clandestinus increased within both vegetation types 20 months after disturbance. Our results are evidence that HSIs based on topographic features may prove most useful for choosing planting sites in harsh habitats or those already dominated by native species. In more productive habitats, competition from resident species may offset any benefits gained from “better” suitability sites.

Publication Year 2022
Title The role of microtopography and resident species in post-disturbance recovery of arid habitats in Hawaiʻi
DOI 10.1002/eap.2690
Authors Stephanie G. Yelenik, Eli Rose, Susan Cordell, Michelle Victoria, James R. Kellner
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70247395
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center