Increases in soil water content after the mortality of non-native trees in oceanic island forest ecosystems are due to reduced water loss during dry periods.
The control of dominant, non-native trees can alter the water balance of soils in forest ecosystems via hydrological processes, which results in changes in soil water environments. To test this idea, we evaluated the effects of the mortality of an invasive tree, Casuarina equisetifolia Forst., on the water content of surface soils on the Ogasawara Islands, subtropical islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, using a manipulative herbicide experiment. Temporal changes in volumetric water content of surface soils at 6 cm depth at sites where all trees of C. equisetifolia were killed by herbicide were compared with those of adjacent control sites before and after their mortality with consideration of the amount of precipitation. In addition, the rate of decrease in the soil water content during dry periods and the rate of increase in the soil water content during rainfall periods were compared between herbicide and control sites. Soil water content at sites treated with herbicide was significantly higher after treatment than soil water content at control sites during the same period. Differences between initial and minimum values of soil water content at the herbicide sites during the drying events were significantly lower than the corresponding differences in the control quadrats. During rainfall periods, both initial and maximum values of soil water contents in the herbicided quadrats were higher, and differences between the maximum and initial values did not differ between the herbicided and control quadrats. Our results indicated that the mortality of non-native trees from forest ecosystems increased water content of surface soils, due primarily to a slower rate of decrease in soil water content during dry periods.