Exotic plant invasion and understorey species richness: a comparison of two types of eucalypt woodland in agricultural Western Australia

Max Abensperg-Traun, Lyn Atkins, Richard Hobbs, Dion Steven

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Exotic plants are a major threat to native plant diversity in Australia yet a generic model of the invasion of Australian ecosystems by exotic species is lacking because invasion levels differ with vegetation/soil type and environmental conditions. This study compared relative differences in exotic species invasion (percent cover, spp. richness) and the species richness of herbaceous native plants in two structurally very similar vegetation types, Gimlet Eucalyptus salubris and Wandoo E. capillosa woodlands in the Western Australian wheatbelt. For each woodland type, plant variables were measured for relatively undisturbed woodlands, woodlands with >30 years of livestock grazing history, and woodlands in road-verges. Grazed and road-verge Gimlet and Wandoo woodlands had significantly higher cover of exotic species, and lower species richness of native plants, compared with undisturbed Gimlet and Wandoo. Exotic plant invasion was significantly greater in Gimlet woodlands for both grazed (mean 78% cover) and road-verge sites (mean 42% cover) than in comparable sites in Wandoo woodlands (grazed sites 25% cover, road-verge sites 19% cover). There was no significant difference in the species richness of exotic plants between Wandoo and Gimlet sites for any of the three situations. Mean site richness of native plants was not significantly different between undisturbed Wandoo and undisturbed Gimlet woodlands. Undisturbed woodlands were significantly richer in plant species than grazed and road-verge woodlands for both woodland types. Grazed and road-verge Wandoo sites were significantly richer in plant species than communities in grazed and road-verge Gimlet. The percent cover of exotics was negatively correlated with total (native) plant species richness for both woodland types (Wandoo r = -0.70, Gimlet r = -0.87). Of the total native species recorded in undisturbed Gimlet, 83% and 61% were not recorded in grazed and road-verge Gimlet, respectively. This compared with 40% and 33% for grazed and road-verge Wandoo, respectively. Grazed Wandoo and grazed Gimlet sites had significantly fewer native plant species than did road-verge Wandoo and road-verge Gimlet sites. Ecosystem implications of differential invasions by exotic species, and the effects of grazing (disturbance) and other factors influencing susceptibility to exotic plant invasion (landscape, competition and allelopathy) on native species decline are discussed. Exclusion of livestock and adequate methods of control and prevention of further invasions by exotic plants are essential requirements for the conservation of these woodland systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
JournalPacific Conservation Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


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