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Are mountain trails conduits for plant invasions

(click the points to find out!)

To answer this question, we went to the Andes in central Chile, where we visited 5 national parks in an ancient volcanic area. In this beautiful setting, we looked at patterns of plant invasions along mountain trails.

The extreme, rocky, volcanic areas at high elevation are mostly invader-free. The few non-natives making it to the top are a subset of the non-native species community in the valleys.Figure: non-native richness as a function of elevation (scaled) in the Chilean national parks

The impact of mountain trails on the spread of non-native species was less strong than of mountain roads, as roadsides contrast more clearly with the surrounding vegetation than trailsidesFigure: non-native richness as a function of distance to the trail, showing a small effect only

The lowland plant communities host a wide diversity of non-native plant species, often from European origin.

Native, undisturbed forests - in this region often consisting of Araucaria's or 'monkey puzzle trees' - turns out to be most resistant against non-native plant invasion, offering potential for conservation.

Livestock and pack animals, like these horses in Mendoza, Argentina, were shown to spread non-native plant species. How did we show this? By correlating non-native plant species occurrences with animal dung!

We showed that hiking trails in Andean national parks promote the upward expansion of non-native plant species.

Liedtke et al. (2019). Hiking trails as conduits for the spread of non-native species into mountain areas. Biological Invasions.