Indexed on: 14 Jan '10Published on: 14 Jan '10Published in: Conservation Biology
The dry forests of southern India, which are endangered tropical ecosystems and among the world's most important tiger (Panthera tigris) habitats, are extensively invaded by exotic plants. Yet, experimental studies exploring the impacts of these invasions on native plants in these forests are scarce. Consequently, little is known about associated implications for the long-term conservation of tigers and other biodiversity in these habitats. I studied the impacts of the exotic plant Lantana camara on understory vegetation in a dry-forest tiger habitat in southern India. I compared the richness, composition, and abundance of tree seedlings, herbs, and shrubs and the abundance of grass among plots in which Lantana was cleared or left standing. These plots were distributed across two blocks-livestock free and livestock grazed. Removal of Lantana had an immediate positive effect on herb-shrub richness in the livestock-free block, but had no effect on that of tree seedlings in either livestock block. Tree-seedling and herb-shrub composition differed significantly between Lantana treatment and livestock block, and Lantana removal significantly decreased survival of tree seedlings. Nevertheless, the absence of trees, in any stage between seedling and adult, indicates that Lantana may stall tree regeneration. Lantana removal decreased the abundance of all understory strata, probably because forage plants beneath Lantana are less accessible to herbivores, and plants in Lantana-free open plots experienced greater herbivory. Reduced access to forage in invaded habitats could negatively affect ungulate populations and ultimately compromise the ability of these forests to sustain prey-dependent large carnivores. Additional research focused on understanding and mitigating threats posed by exotic plants may be crucial to the long-term protection of these forests as viable tiger habitats.