Native species recovery after reduction of an invasive tree by biological control with and without active removal.
Removal of invasive species is often an important, if not central, component of many riparian restoration projects, however little is known about the response of plant communities following this practice. In particular, active control of the exotic, dominant tree Tamarix spp. is often a focus of riparian restoration, much of which occurring against a backdrop of biological control by a folivore beetle. Our research employed controls in both time and space to investigate the impact of active Tamarix removal methods in sites subjected to biological control in 40 sites sampled three times over a period of five years. We found that reduction in Tamarix cover was much greater over time with active means of removal, however the native understory increased both with and without active removal. Importantly, change in the relative cover of understory native species was significantly negatively correlated with change in Tamarix cover, with those sites that received a combination of low-disturbance-mechanical, chemical and bio-control showing greater increases in native understory dominance than those sites with biological control alone or high-disturbance mechanical control. Sites with only bio-control still contained 10% live Tamarix cover >7 yr since the beetle was released there. Taken together, these results suggest that the reduction of this exotic tree, even by biological control that leaves some canopy intact, can facilitate recovery of the native plant community. As such, this study supports the Field of Dreams hypothesis that states that once niches are restored, native plants should be able to recolonize.