Is the relative abundance of nonnative species an integrated measure of anthropogenic disturbance?

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The hypothesis that the percentage of nonnative plant species inhabiting a landscape might be used as an integrated measure of anthropogenic disturbance was explored in 26 diverse landscape parcels in Rhode Island. Nine correlates of anthropogenic disturbance within, and immediately adjacent to the refuges were compared to two refuge-specific indices of relative nonnative vascular plant species abundance. The percentage of the total vascular flora of each refuge that was nonnative was the Nonnative Index for each refuge. The percentage of all nonnative species in the 26 refuges combined that occurred in a given refuge was the Regional Nonnative Index for each refuge (nonnative species in each refuge divided by the nonnative species in all 26 refuges, times 100). The latter index measured how successful species from the finite pool of nonnative species present in the region were at invading and colonizing a refuge. Of the 869 vascular plant species in all 26 refuges, 28% were nonnative. The percentage of the vascular flora that was nonnative in each refuge varied from 2 to 50%. Few comparisons between correlates of anthropogenic disturbance and Nonnative Indices were statistically significant, yet two of the nine correlates of anthropogenic disturbance were highly related to Regional Nonnative Indices. Collectively, the correlates of anthropogenic disturbance accounted for 39% of the variance in the Regional Nonnative Index for all species combined, and 56% of the variance in the Regional Nonnative Index for tree species alone. The Regional Nonnative Index was also highly related to the richness of native plant species. The hypothesis that the nonnative vascular plant diversity of a landscape can be used as a surrogate for the integrated effects of anthropogenic disturbance was generally rejected by the analysis of our Nonnative Index, and supported by the analysis of our Regional Nonnative Index. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

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Landscape Ecology