Introduction of invasive species has been implicated in the decline of many native species. However, the mechanisms that underlie successful invasion and species replacement are often poorly understood. We tested the hypothesis that disruption of the natural disturbance regime can facilitate invasion of habitats, resulting in the exclusion of native species. In Arizona's San Rafael Valley, cattle ponds designed to hold water year-round have replaced seasonal marshes, and this altered drying regime has facilitated invasion by disturbance-intolerant fish and bullfrogs that negatively affect native Sonoran tiger salamanders. We investigated the relationships among pond drying regime, presence of introduced fish and bullfrogs, and presence of tiger salamander populations in 42 ponds. Both fish and breeding bullfrog populations disappeared following pond drying. Pond drying in cattle ponds negatively affected salamanders, but not to the same extent that it affected fish and bullfrogs. Metamorphosed bullfrogs ate salamander larvae in laboratory and field experiments, and the risk of local extinction among salamander populations was increased by introduced fish. Once fish eliminated salamanders from an aquatic habitat, salamanders seldom reappeared unless fish were killed by drying. Simple models were developed to predict change in salamander, fish, and bullfrog distributions with changes in cattle pond drying frequency. The models show that decreases in pond drying frequency could negatively affect salamanders by leading to a community dominated by disturbance-intolerant fish and bullfrogs, but increased drying frequency could negatively affect salamander populations by preventing salamander breeding. These results suggest that manipulation or restoration of disturbance regimes may be a powerful tool in managing for native species threatened by biotic invasions.
- Invasive species
- Pond drying
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation