Invasive shrub removal benefits native plants in an eastern deciduous forest of North America.
In eastern deciduous forests of North America, invasive shrubs are increasing in richness and abundance at the expense of native species across taxa. Invasive shrubs create an understory that is more dense than both recent and historical preinvasion conditions. Interest in invasive shrub removal to restore native habitat is growing, but our understanding of natural regeneration following treatment of a diverse invasive shrub community is lagging. Using an invasive shrub removal experiment, we provide insight into the effect of repeated removal of a suite of 18 invasive shrub species dominated by border privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium Siebold & Zucc.). In 2009, invasive shrubs were removed from five 20-m-diameter treatment plots, each with a paired control plot. Seven years later, we find an increase in plant diversity, native understory species abundance, and overstory tree species regeneration for individuals under a meter in height. For plants 1 to 4 m in height, the removal treatment has a positive effect on understory woody species, but there has been no change in regenerating overstory trees. A lack of overstory tree regeneration to greater heights is not surprising, given the time frame and the closed-canopy conditions. However, other factors, such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) browse, could be serving as an impediment to taller tree regeneration in the forest understory. An ambient sampling approach in unmanaged, invaded, and uninvaded forest has been used in other studies to estimate the potential impacts of invasive shrub species to native plant communities. However, in this study the ambient sampling approach underestimated the impacts of invasive shrubs compared to their experimental removal. Overall, invasive shrub removal increased plant diversity and allowed passive natural regeneration of native plants that exceeded native cover in the unmanaged, ambient forest under minimal invasive shrub abundance.