Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Rethinking foundation species in a changing world: the case for Rhododendron maximum as an emerging foundation species in shifting ecosystems of the southern Appalachians.

Abstract

"Foundation species" are widespread, abundant species that play critical roles in structuring ecosystem characteristics and processes. Ecosystem change in response to human activities, climate change, disease introduction, or other environmental conditions may promote the emergence of new foundation species or the decline of previously important foundation species. We present rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) as an example of an emerging foundation species in riparian forest and headwater stream ecosystems of the southern Appalachian Mountains and use its example to propose a dynamic approach to recognizing foundation species. As other species have declined, rhododendron has increased in abundance, biomass, and ecosystem importance, and now dominates the riparian zones and mesic uplands of much of the region. Rhododendron structures, stabilizes, and modulates functions within both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Studies of forest ecosystem response to environmental conditions indicate that rhododendron may increase the resistance and resilience of its associated ecosystems to predicted anthropogenic stress, including climate change, nitrogen enrichment, and invasive species. A more dynamic conception of foundation species as dependent on ecosystem states will help ecologists to focus on ecosystem processes and services, rather than on historically dominant species, for restoration strategies.