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Title: Effects of invasive alien plants on riparian vegetation and their response to environmental factors
Author: Pattison, Zarah
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 5741
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2016
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Biological invasions are reportedly one of the major contributory factors to biodiversity loss worldwide. The impacts of invasive alien plant (IAP) species on native communities are widely documented in the scientific literature, however, there is still a lack of detailed information on their impacts within the most vulnerable habitats. Riparian habitats are highly dynamic systems and naturally disturbed, making them particularly vulnerable to invasion. Climate change, directly or indirectly, is also predicted to adversely impact river systems, which may subsequently alter invasion rates and the impacts of IAPs. However, the interactions between climate and IAPs and their combined effects on vegetation have rarely been examined. To address these knowledge gaps, this thesis investigates: (1) the role of environmental variables, such as sediment loading or climate-related changes to river flow regime, on the abundance of IAPs within riparian zones; (2) how variation in IAP abundance impacts native vegetation, relative to the effects of native dominant plant species and (3) some of the mechanisms underlying the effects of IAPs in riparian habitats. Historic and recent field survey data were used to investigate changes in riparian vegetation on British rivers during the last 20 years. Analyses indicate that IAPs had a negative but small effect on native plant diversity. Overall, changes in land use and differences in flow regime between recording periods were the most important predictors of plant community change. Specifically, IAPs had a greater probability of being present along lowland rivers that experienced increased frequency of high flow events. On a local scale across rivers in Scotland, the abundance of IAPs was constrained by greater soil moisture in summer, whilst greater abundance was associated with tree-lined banks. Both native dominant species and IAPs negatively affected subordinate species abundance to a greater extent than species richness, although this effect varied spatially with bank elevation. Artificial turf mats were used to quantify viable propagules within riverine sediment deposited over-winter along invaded riverbanks. The data indicate that there is a legacy effect of IAP abundance, with the most invaded sites being associated with higher sediment loading the following year, though, contrary to the general pattern, 12 sediment associated propagules were scarcer at invaded sites. Moreover, lower above-ground native diversity was associated with sites which had been previously invaded. Plant species composition in the propagule bank and above-ground vegetation were highly dissimilar, particularly closest to the water’s edge at highly invaded sites. This suggests that mono-specific stands of IAPs proliferate best under less disturbed environmental conditions, although fluvial disturbance events may be required to create opportunities for initial establishment. The propagule bank contributed very little to the above-ground vegetation, nor did it limit invasion, suggesting that above-ground plant composition is largely dictated by competitive interactions. The findings presented in this thesis suggest that invasion by IAPs is an additional stressor for native vegetation within riparian habitats, modifying above-ground plant communities via competition and suppressing recruitment from the propagule bank. However, native dominant species common in riparian habitats also negatively impact, subordinate species via competition, in some cases equalling the effect of IAPs. Native dominant and IAP species are differently affected by environmental factors operating in the riparian zone, which may provide future opportunities for reducing and managing invasions.
Supervisor: Willby, Nigel ; Vallejo-Marin, Mario Sponsor: Scottish Natural Heritage ; Scottish Environmental Protection Agency ; University of Stirling
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: invasive species ; community composition ; vegetation ; riparian plants ; alien plants ; Scotland ; species diversity ; climate change ; river flow ; environmental change ; competition ; mixed effects modelling ; model averaging ; species richness ; sedimentation ; seed bank ; Invasive plants Environmental aspects Scotland ; Riparian plants Environmental aspects Scotland