Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Species- and site-specific impacts of an invasive herbivore on tree survival in mixed forests.

Abstract

Invasive herbivores are often managed to limit their negative impact on plant populations, but herbivore density - plant damage relationships are notoriously spatially and temporally variable. Site and species characteristics (both plant and herbivore) must be considered when assessing the potential for herbivore damage, making it difficult to set thresholds for efficient management. Using the invasive brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula in New Zealand as a case study, we parameterized a generic model to predict annual probability of browse-induced mortality of five tree species at 12 sites. We compared predicted and observed tree mortality for each species+site combination to establish herbivore abundance - tree mortality thresholds for each site on a single and combined tree species basis. Model results indicated it is likely that possum browse was the primary cause of all tree mortality at nine of the 12 species-site combinations, allowing us to estimate site-specific thresholds below which possum population numbers should be reduced and maintained to keep tree mortality under a predetermined level, for example 0.5% per year. The browse model can be used to set site- and species-specific management action thresholds, and can be adapted easily for other plant or herbivore species. Results for multiple plant or herbivore species at a single site can be combined to create conservative, site-wide management strategies, and used to: determine which sites will be affected most by changes in herbivore abundance; quantify thresholds for herbivore management; and justify expenditure on herbivore control.