Alien plant species often use areas of heavy human activity for habitat and dispersal. Roads and utility corridors have been shown to harbor more alien species than the surrounding vegetation and are therefore believed to contribute to alien plant persistence and spread. Recreational trails represent another corridor that could harbor alien species and aid their spread. Effective management of invasive species requires understanding how alien plants are distributed at trailheads and trails and how their dispersal may be influenced by native vegetation. Our overall goal was to investigate the distribution of alien plants at trailheads and trails in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. At trailheads, we found that although the number of alien species was less than the number of native species, alien plant cover ( x̄=50%) did not differ from native plant cover, and we observed a large number of alien seedlings in the soil seed bank, suggesting that alien plants are a large component of trailhead communities and will continue to be so in the future. Along trails, we found higher alien species richness and cover on trail (as opposed to 4 m from the trail) in 3 out of 4 vegetation types, and we observed higher alien richness and cover in meadows than in other vegetation types. Plant communities at both trailheads and trails, as well as seed banks at trailheads, contain substantial diversity and abundance of alien plants. These results suggest that recreational trails in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado may function as corridors that facilitate the spread of alien species into wildlands. Our results suggest that control of alien plants should begin at trailheads where there are large numbers of aliens and that control efforts on trails should be prioritized by vegetation type.
Additional publication details
Recreational trails as corridors for alien plants in the Rocky Mountains, USA