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The effects of invasive North American beavers on riparian plant communities in Cape Horn, Chile - Do exotic beavers engineer differently in sub-Antarctic ecosystems?

The effects of invasive North American beavers on riparian plant communities in Cape Horn, Chile - Do exotic beavers engineer differently in sub-Antarctic ecosystems?

Biological Conservation il; 128(4): 467-474

North American beavers (Castor canadensis) were introduced into southern South America in 1946. Since that time, their populations have greatly expanded. In their native range, beavers shape riparian ecosystems by selectively feeding on particular plant species, increasing herbaceous richness and creating a distinct plant community. To test their effects as exotic engineers on sub-Antarctic vegetation, we quantified beaver impacts on tree canopy cover and seedling abundance and composition, as well as their impacts on herbaceous species richness, abundance and composition on Navarino island, Cape Horn County, Chile (550S). Beavers significantly reduced forest canopy up to 30 m away from streams, essentially eliminating riparian forests. The tree seedling bank was greatly reduced and seedling species composition was changed by suppressing Nothofagus betuloides and Nothofagus pumilio, but allowing Nothofagus antarctica. Herbaceous richness and abundance almost doubled in meadows. However, unlike beaver effects on North American herbaceous plant communities, much of this richness was due to invasion by exotic plants, and beaver modifications of the meadow vegetation assemblage did not result in a significantly different community, compared to forests. Overall, 42% of plant species were shared between both habitat types. Our results indicate that, as predicted from North American studies, beaver-engineering increased local herbaceous richness. Unlike in their native range, though, they did not create a unique plant community in sub-Antarctic landscapes. Plus, the elimination of Nothofagus forests and their seedling bank and the creation of invasion pathways for exotic plants together threaten one of the world's most pristine temperate forest ecosystems.

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Accession: 023862663

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DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2005.10.011

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