Do no harm: efficacy of a single herbicide application to control an invasive shrub while minimizing collateral damage to native species.
Control of invasive exotic species in restorations without compromising the native plant community is a challenge. Efficacy of exotic species control needs to consider collateral effects on the associated plant community. We asked (1) if short-term control of a dominant exotic invasive, Lespedeza cuneata in grassland restorations allows establishment of a more diverse native plant community, and (2) if control of the exotic and supplemental seed addition allows establishment of native species. A manipulative experiment tested the effects of herbicide treatments (five triclopyr and fluroxypyr formulations plus an untreated control) and seed addition (and unseeded control) on taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity, and community composition of restored grasslands in three sites over three years. We assessed response of L. cuneata through stem density counts, and response of the plant community through estimates of canopy cover. Herbicide treatments reduced the abundance of the exotic in the first field season leading to a less dispersed community composition compared with untreated controls, with the exotic regaining dominance by the third year. Supplemental seed addition did not provide extra resistance of the native community to reinvasion of the exotic. The communities were phylogenetically over-dispersed, but there was a short-term shift to lower phylogenetic diversity in response to herbicides consistent with a decrease in biotic filtering. Native plant communities in these grassland restorations were resilient to short-term reduction in abundance of a dominant invasive even though it was insufficient to provide an establishment window for native species establishment.