The reed, an abundant plant in the Iriverbanks around the world, alters the ground arthropods communities and it reduces the body size of these invertebrates in the natural habitats it colonizes, according to a study published in the magazine Biological Invasions.
The new project is led by the experts Alberto Maceda Veiga, from the Biodiversity Research Institute of the UB (IRBio), Gerard Lanzaco, Miquel Sala, Adolfo de Sostoa and Antoni Serra, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the IRBio, and Helena Basas, from the Animal Biodiversity Research Centre (CRBA) of the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona.
The reed (Arundo donax), a graminaceous plant with its origins in Asia and other Mediterranean countries, is an invader plant able to grow and reproduce in a wide range of environmental conditions but mainly humid areas. This exotic plant, which is one of the biggest graminaceous plants, is strongly used in the Mediterranean area to establish river banks, make plantation fences and used to support cultivated plants. But far from these controlled fields, it creates grand canebrakes which alter the characteristics of the native vegetation and the natural environment.
Smaller and less arthropods in canebrakes
The article published in the magazine Biological Invasions is the first study which relates the invasion of the plant A. donax with the undergone changes in the ground arthropods community and their body size. In the study, the authors compare the arthropods communities in three kinds of riverbanks vegetation -including the areas that were invaded by the reed- to the fluvial basins of the rivers Ripoll and Llobregat and the natural Park of Collserola (specifically, the Vallvidrera riverbank) in Catalonia (Spain).
The first author, Alberto Maceda Veiga, member of IRBio and expert in the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC), said that "some previous studies on A. donax showed less arthropods abundance and diversity in riverbanks ecosystems in the United States, but without a clear impact on the ground arthropods. It was also known by a laboratory study that marine arthropods fed with A. donax have a smaller growth."
The new study shows that there are less arthropods and they are smaller and less diverse in the areas that were colonized by this plant. "These changes are due to multiple causes -direct and indirect- like the presence of compounds which turn the reed into a not very nutritious food and with low palatability. Plus the alterations of the physical and chemical properties of the ground, which negatively affect both the native fauna and flora" said Maceda Veiga.
"The body size factor -says Maceda- is related to the role of an organism during the transfer of matter and energy in the ecosystem. If we compare a rabbit, a deer and a wolf we would see that a rabbit consumes less grass than a deer, but this one has more meat so it gives more energy to the wolf than the rabbit. In this sustainment is where, in part, the balance of an ecosystem creases."
Springtails, more abundant
This exotic and invasive graminaceous plant grows fast in natural habitats and it deeply disrupts the biodiversity of fluvial ecosystems. However, the study of the UB has also detected that collembolans -little arthropods close to insects- are less abundant in the reedbeds.
"The hypothesis on which we work -continued- is that the reed produces a great quantity of folderol, stalks, and other plant rests that pile up and stop other plants from growing. These rests, which are decomposed by fungus and other microorganism actions, are the main nutrition source to the collembolans."
"They are paradoxes which appear with biological invasions" says Maceda-Veiga. "There could be positive, neutral or negative effects according to the variants that are valued and the environment where the invasion takes place. Up to now, in the reed's case, most indicators show negative effects and that is why it is considered as one of the worse 100 species worldwide according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, this does not mean that there could be positive effects, like effects on collembolan potential predaceous, or that the impacts can't change over the years."
Control, restoration and environmental education to preserve biodiversity
The arthropods in the riverbanks are not the only affected organisms by the ecologic impact of this plant. Other fauna groups (birds, micromammals, amphibians and reptiles that eat arthropods) are also affected. "Everything will depend on the possibilities of these animals to exploit other habitats which are not invaded by the reed. It is very probable that the reed invasion alters the organic matter contribution to marine ecosystems and this would cause effects which would be difficult to predict on fauna, including fish."
In the future, it will be necessary to undergo experimental studies to discover the mechanisms that provoke the plant invasion and determine its impact. "Another research line which is not less important is to study the controlling strategies for the previous invasion and restoration in the invaded area. We have to think that we can't completely remove the reed from our territory. However, it is possible to use measurements to reduce its impact on the ecosystem and promote environmental education campaigns to avoid future invasions" concluded Maceda Veiga.
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