Short-term vegetation responses following windthrow disturbance on preserved forest lands.
Invasive exotic plants pose a serious threat to the ecological integrity of forests in the eastern United States. Presence and expansion of these plants are closely associated with human-caused disturbances. Land preservation to exclude human-caused disturbances could protect against invasions, yet natural disturbances persist. We ask if windthrow forest disturbances in preserved National Park lands facilitate exotic species invasions. We hypothesized that exotic plant expansion is positively correlated with forest canopy disturbance from windthrow and proximity of disturbed area to forest edge. Pre and post-disturbance data from National Park Service long-term vegetation monitoring were used to analyze exotic plant richness and abundance in four National Park Service units affected by 2012 severe storms. No significant difference in exotic plant richness or cover occurred between disturbed (n=18) and undisturbed plots (n=262) over three years following disturbance. Exotic plant cover prior to disturbance was positively correlated with the amount of nearby linear edge habitat, but there were no significant correlations between edge and change in exotic plant cover following disturbance. Lack of increase in exotic plants after windthrow disturbance suggests that land preservation provides short-term resistance to invasion.