Community- and trophic-level responses of soil nematodes to removal of a non-native tree at different stages of invasion.
Success of invasive non-native plant species management is usually measured as changes in the abundance of the invasive plant species or native plant species following invader management, but more complex trophic responses to invader removal are often ignored or assumed. Moreover, the effects of invader removal at different stages of the invasion process is rarely evaluated, despite a growing recognition that invader impacts are density or stage-dependent. Therefore, the effectiveness of invasive species management for restoring community structure and function across trophic levels remains poorly understood. We determined how soil nematode diversity and community composition respond to removal of the globally invasive tree species Pinus contorta at different stages of invasion by reanalysing and expanding an earlier study including uninvaded vegetation (seedlings removed continuously), early invader removal (saplings removed), late removal (trees removed), and no removal (invaded). These treatments allowed us to evaluate the stage-dependent belowground trophic responses to biological invasion and removal. We found that invaded plots had half the nematode taxa richness compared to uninvaded plots, and that tree invasion altered the overall composition of the nematode community. Differences in nematode community composition between uninvaded nematode communities and those under the tree removal strategy tended to dilute higher up the food chain, whereas the composition of uninvaded vs. sapling removal strategies did not differ significantly. Conversely, the composition of invaded compared to uninvaded nematode communities differed across all trophic levels, altering the community structure and function. Specifically, invaded communities were structurally simplified compared to uninvaded communities, and had a higher proportion of short life cycle nematodes, characteristic of disturbed environments. We demonstrate that a shift in management strategies for a globally invasive tree species from removing trees to earlier removal of saplings is needed for maintaining the composition and structure of soil nematode communities to resemble uninvaded conditions.