Large areas of tidal marsh in the contiguous US and the Maritime Provinces of Canada are threatened by invasive plant species. Our understanding of the impact these invasions have on tidal-marsh vertebrates is sparse. In this paper, we focus on two successful invasive plant taxa that have spread outside their native range - common reed (Phragmites australis) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). A cryptic haplotype of common reed has expanded its range in Atlantic Coast tidal marshes and smooth cordgrass, a native dominant plant of Atlantic Coast low-marsh habitat, has expanded its range and invaded intertidal-marsh habitats of the Pacific Coast. The invasions of common reed in Atlantic Coast tidal marshes and smooth cordgrass in Pacific Coast tidal marshes appear to have similar impacts. The structure and composition of these habitats has been altered and invasion and dominance by these two taxa can lead to profound changes in geomorphological processes, altering the vertical relief and potentially affecting invertebrate communities and the entire trophic structure of these systems. Few studies have documented impacts of invasive plant taxa on tidal-marsh vertebrate species in North America. However, habitat specialists that are already considered threatened or endangered are most likely to be affected. Extensive experimental studies are needed to examine the direct impact of invasive plant species on native vertebrate species. Careful monitoring of sites during the initial stages of plant invasion and tracking ecosystem changes through time are essential. Since tidal marshes are the foci for invasion by numerous species, we also need to understand the indirect impacts of invasion of these habitats on the vertebrate community. We also suggest the initiation of studies to determine if vertebrate species can compensate behaviorally for alterations in their habitat caused by invasive plant species, as well as the potential for adaptation via rapid evolution. Finally, we urge natural-resource managers to consider the impact various invasive plant control strategies will have on native vertebrate communities.
Additional Publication Details
The impact of invasive plants on tidal-marsh vertebrate species: Common reed (Phragmites australis) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) as case studies