Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Physiological indicators of habitat quality for a migratory songbird breeding in a forest invaded by non-native Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).

Abstract

Non-native, invasive plants can impact birds by altering food sources, nesting substrates and other critical resources. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is one of the most invasive, non-native woody plants in in the northeastern USA, and yet almost nothing is known about its effects on birds or other wildlife. To investigate individual-level impacts of Japanese barberry on a forest-breeding bird, we compared food abundance (leaf-litter arthropod biomass) and the physiological condition of territorial male ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) between areas of a forest preserve in New York State that had high or low densities of Japanese barberry. We used haemoglobin and plasma triglyceride concentrations to indicate energetic condition, plasma uric acid and total plasma protein levels to indicate diet quality, and heterophil to lymphocyte ratios to indicate chronic stress. We found no difference in arthropod biomass between ovenbird territories that were heavily invaded by or relatively free of Japanese barberry. Perhaps largely as a result, we found no relationship between Japanese barberry density and any of our five haematological condition indices. There was also no difference in body mass, body size or age ratio between ovenbirds nesting in areas with low or high densities of Japanese barberry to suggest that relatively uninvaded forest patches were in greater demand and acquired by the most dominant individuals. Our results indicate that Japanese barberry does not reduce habitat quality for breeding male ovenbirds in a way that affects their prey abundance or physiological condition, but we caution that other species of birds and other aspects of habitat quality could be affected differently. We encourage future research on additional bird species and the effects of Japanese barberry on factors such as diet composition, pairing and nesting success and post-fledging survival to improve science-based decision-making about the extent to which conservation resources should be applied towards Japanese barberry control.