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Are mountain trails conduits for plant invasions

(click the points to find out!)

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

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!

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 trailsides

Figure: 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.

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.

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.