• Canopy disturbance;
  • Exotic species;
  • Hawai'i;
  • Invasion;
  • Resilience;
  • Soils;
  • Species composition;
  • Tropical montane forest;
  • Vascular plants;
  • Volcanic substrate



How do canopy disturbance and soil properties structure vascular plant community species composition and resilience to encroachment by exotic species in a tropical montane wet forest?


Hawai'i Experimental Tropical Forest (HETF), a tropical montane wet forest, on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i Island, Hawai'i, USA.


Previous studies employing airborne LiDAR were used to define three zones across an elevation gradient from 900 to 1500 m. Within each zone, a ~1000-m block transect was selected to cross two different volcanic substrates: one derived from surface lava and one derived from thick ash deposits. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) scores of vegetation data were related to independently-derived environmental NMS scores and spatial location with generalized additive models (GAM).


Vascular plant species composition in all elevation zones consists of three NMS axes, which are best modelled by one of three possible environmental NMS axes or by location. The first NMS axis of species composition in the lowest elevation zone (40% variance explained (VE)) is a function of location on volcanic substrates (61% deviance explained (DE)). The second lowest elevation axis (27% VE) is a function of unexplained spatial heterogeneity (31% DE). The third lowest elevation NMS axis (24% VE) is a function of the spatial mosaic of canopy disturbance (16% DE). In the middle elevation zone, species composition most strongly relates to the interaction between volcanic substrate and the condition of the soil surface for all three NMS axes (41%, 27%, 24% VE; 70%, 16%, 24% DE). The primary axis of species composition in the highest elevation zone (41% VE) corresponds with substrate and soil condition (55% DE) but the second and third axes of species composition (27% and 25% VE) relate to canopy dieback disturbance (36%, 14% DE). Counts of exotic species and 0–2 m height class native tree species respond to the type of volcanic substrate and soil surface condition in all three elevation zones. Lava-derived substrates have a higher incidence of exotic species and less native tree regeneration; whereas ash-derived substrates have higher numbers of native tree species regenerating and many fewer exotic species.


The tropical montane forests on Mauna Kea reflect a native-dominated plant community response to disturbance on both lava- and ash-derived volcanic substrates, and a higher propensity for exotic species to occur on the lava-derived substrate. Native plant communities on ash-derived soils may have higher resilience to exotic invasion than communities on lava-derived substrates. Our results indicate resource managers should explicitly account for variation in soils and substrate type when prioritizing, implementing and monitoring management interventions to foster native plant assemblages and control the spread of exotic and invasive species.