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Ecology. 2007 Dec;88(12):3115-25.

Windows of opportunity: historical and ecological controls on Berberis thunbergii invasions.

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Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, Massachusetts 01366, USA.


Attempts to determine characteristics that render habitats invasible to nonnative species have met with limited success. This may be because most studies focus on modern habitat conditions and do not consider invasibility in the context of a historically dynamic landscape in which both the abundance of a species and the invasibility of a site may change. We surveyed 159 currently forested sites for the occurrence and abundance of Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry), an invasive, nonnative shrub in forests of the northeastern United States, relative to modern environmental conditions, contemporary logging activity, and two periods of historical land use. Berberis thunbergii occurred more frequently and was more abundant in post-agricultural forests than in continuously wooded sites. This relationship was stronger for agricultural sites that were abandoned and reforested after B. thunbergii was introduced to the region than for sites that reforested prior to B. thunbergii introduction. In contrast, recent forest harvesting did not influence the occurrence or abundance of B. thunbergii. Modern soil fertility explained a significant portion of the variation in B. thunbergii occurrence, whereas site history considerably improved predictions of population density and helped evaluate potential invasion mechanisms. While land-use history covaries with soil fertility and distance to putative seed sources, the strong relationship between modern abundance patterns and historical agriculture suggests that B. thunbergii colonized recently abandoned agricultural lands in the early 20th century and then persisted and spread locally during subsequent reforestation. Our results indicate that interpretations of both native community composition and modern plant invasions must consider the importance of historical landscape changes and the timing of species introduction along with current environmental conditions.

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