Human land use promotes the abundance and diversity of exotic species on caribbean islands

Human land use causes major changes in species abundance and composition, yet native and exotic species can exhibit different responses to land use change. Native populations generally decline in human‐impacted habitats while exotic species often benefit. In this study, we assessed the effects of human land use on exotic and native reptile diversity, including functional diversity, which relates to the range of habitat use strategies in biotic communities. We surveyed 114 reptile communities from localities that varied in habitat structure and human impact level on two Caribbean islands, and calculated species richness, overall abundance and evenness for every plot. Functional diversity indices were calculated using published trait data, which enabled us to detect signs of trait filtering associated with impacted habitats. Our results show that environmental variation among sampling plots was explained by two PCA ordination axes related to habitat structure (i.e. forest or non‐forest) and human impact level (i.e. addition of man‐made constructions such as roads and buildings). Several diversity indices were significantly correlated with the two PCA axes, but exotic and native species showed opposing responses. Native species reached the highest abundance in forests, while exotic species were absent in this habitat. Human impact was associated with an increase in exotic abundance and species richness, while native species showed no significant associations. Functional diversity was highest in non‐forested environments on both islands, and further increased on St. Martin with the establishment of functionally unique exotic species in non‐forested habitat. Habitat structure, rather than human impact, proved to be an important agent for environmental filtering of traits, causing divergent functional trait values across forested and non‐forested environments. Our results illustrate the importance of considering various elements of land use when studying its impact on species diversity and the establishment and spread of exotic species.


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