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The impact of the invasive alien grass Cortaderia jubata (Lemoine) Stapf on an endangered mediterranean-type shrubland in California



Abstract. Since its introduction in the late 1800s, the perennial tussock grass Cortaderia jubata (Lemoine) Stapf has become an increasingly frequent member of coastal plant communities in California and Oregon. In this study, the community changes associated with C. jubata invasion into the mediterranean-type vegetation of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California were examined. Pristine plots of maritime chaparral were compared with spatially and topographically matched plots dominated by C. jubata. Aerial photographs indicated that the invaded plots had previously been shrubland. C. jubata invasion created a structurally less complex perennial grassland that was markedly depauperate in native shrub species. The absence of native shrubs depressed native richness in jubata grassland, but the greater richness of both native and alien herbaceous species made overall richness in jubata grassland indistinguishable from maritime chaparral. Vegetational differences were associated with differences in arthropod and small mammal populations between vegetation types. Arthropod abundance and order diversity were lower in plots dominated by C. jubata than in adjacent chaparral. Insect traps in C. jubata plots contained a significantly smaller proportion of Hymenoptera and Homoptera and a significantly greater proportion of Aràneae than traps in maritime chaparral. Rodent activity was significantly lower while rabbit activity was significantly greater in jubata grassland compared to maritime chaparral. This study indicates that the presence of C. jubata can dramatically alter the mediterranean-type landscape of central California. While it is likely that the initial establishment of C. jubata is associated with disturbances that are common in this ecosystem, the ability of C. jubata to expand from founding populations and to persist for long periods of time pose a serious threat to the native diversity of these unique systems.