Antigonon leptopus invasion is associated with plant community disassembly in a Caribbean island ecosystem
Invasions by non-native plant species are widely recognized as a major driver of biodiversity loss. Globally, (sub-)tropical islands form important components of biodiversity hotspots, while being particularly susceptible to invasions by plants in general and vines in particular. We studied the impact of the invasive vine A. leptopus on the diversity and structure of recipient plant communities on the northern Caribbean island St. Eustatius. We used a paired-plot design to study differences in species richness, evenness and community structure under A. leptopus-invaded and uninvaded conditions. Community structure was studied through species co-occurrence patterns. We found that in plots invaded by A. leptopus, species richness was 40–50% lower, and these plots also exhibited lower evenness. The magnitude of these negative impacts increased with increasing cover of A. leptopus. Invaded plots also showed higher degrees of homogeneity in species composition. Species co-occurrence patterns indicated that plant communities in uninvaded plots were characterized by segregation, whereas recipient plant communities in invaded plots exhibited random cooccurrence patterns. These observations suggest that invasion of A. leptopus is not only associated with reduced species richness and evenness of recipient communities in invaded sites, but also with a community disassembly process that may reduce diversity between sites. Given that A. leptopus is a successful invader of (sub-)tropical islands around the globe, these impacts on plant community structure highlight that this invasive species could be a particular conservation concern for these systems.