Invasive slugs as under-appreciated obstacles to rare plant restoration: evidence from the Hawaiian Islands.
Introduced slugs have invaded many parts of the world where they were recognized as important pests of gardens and agriculture, but we know little about the effects of introduced slugs on rare plants in natural areas. The Hawaiian Islands have no native slugs, but over a dozen introduced slug species are now established. We reviewed Rare Plant Recovery Plans produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Hawaii and found that introduced slugs were specifically mentioned as threats or potential threats to 59 rare plant species (22% of all endangered and threatened plants), based mainly on anecdotal observations by field biologists. We then initiated an experimental field study to assess the impact of slug herbivory on the growth and survival of two endangered plant species (Cyanea superba, and Schidea obovata), one non-endangered native species (Nestegis sandwicensis) and two co-occurring invasive plant species (Psidium cattleianum and Clidemia hirta). In mesic forest on the Island of Oahu, we tracked the fate of outplanted seedlings in replicated 1 m2 plots, with and without slug control. Slugs decreased seedling survival of the endangered species by 51%, on average. Slugs did not significantly affect survival of the non-endangered or invasive plant species. Introduced slugs seem to be under-appreciated as a direct cause of plant endangerment. Invasive slugs may also facilitate the success of some invasive plant species by reducing competition with more palatable, native plant competitors. Slug control measures are relatively inexpensive and could facilitate rare plant establishment and population recovery.