Invasive alien plant species in unmanaged forest reserves, Austria.
Invasive alien plant species (IAS) are one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity and the sustainable functioning of ecosystems and mitigating the threat posed by them is therefore of great importance. This study presents the results of a 15-year investigation into how IAS occur within natural forest reserves (NFR): unmanaged forest ecosystems within Austria, concluding that unmanaged forests are not resistant to plant invasions. The study comprised ground vegetation, regeneration, and stand structure surveys. The presence or absence of IAS in different forest types was assessed and the influencing variables for their presence or absence were determined. In addition, the study analysed whether the abundance of IAS has increased at the site level within the past decade. Significant differences in the probability of IAS presences between forest types (photosociological alliances) were found. The results of the study show that natural riparian and floodplain forests are among the forest types most vulnerable to biological invasions, which is reflected in elevation and soil type being determined as the main factors influencing the spread of IAS in unmanaged forests. The results of this study may be useful for persons responsible for sustainable forest management programmes or for managing forested areas within national parks. They provide a case study on non-intervention forest management policy in order to mitigate the impacts of IAS in protected areas. Forest areas, where IAS begin to spread can be identified, which in turn leads to measures in the early stages of invasion, and to optimise monitoring and control measures for relevant species in Central European forest types.