Invasion of Ligustrum lucidum (Oleaceae) in the southern Yungas: changes in habitat properties and decline in bird diversity.
Ligustrum lucidum is the major exotic tree in NW Argentina montane forests (Yungas). To assess the effects of its expanding invasion on avian communities we (1) measured different habitat properties (vertical forest structure and composition, vegetation cover, light availability, air temperature, air relative humidity and soil litter depth), (2) compared bird species composition and diversity in Ligustrum-dominated and native-dominated secondary forests and (3) analyzed seasonal patterns and changes in these variables between forest types. The study was conducted during 2010-2011 wet and dry seasons, at two altitudinal zones: 500-800 and 1100-1450 masl. Compared with native forests, Ligustrum dominated forests had a more homogeneous vertical forest structure and denser canopy cover (resulting in lower understory solar radiation), significantly lower understory cover and lower litter depth. Air temperature and relative humidity did not differ between forests in either season. Solar radiation was higher in the dry season in both forest types, but litter depth showed opposite patterns between seasons depending on forest type. We recorded 59 bird species in 21 families. Bird species abundance, richness and diversity indexes were significantly lower in Ligustrum-dominated relative to native forests of similar successional age, which had almost twice as many species as the former. Avian communities differed between altitudinal zones, but the difference was stronger between Ligustrum and native-dominated forests. Avian community composition was less variable in time and space in native forests than in Ligustrum-dominated ones. Our results suggest that L. lucidum invasion generates structurally homogeneous and simpler forests that represent a less suitable habitat for a diverse avifauna. This illustrates the wide ecological changes (from habitat properties and ecosystem functioning to vertebrate community composition) that the subtropical mountain forests of Argentina are experiencing with this invasion.