Disparate responses of above- and belowground properties to soil disturbance by an invasive mammal

Introduced mammalian herbivores can negatively affect ecosystem structure and function if they introduce a novel disturbance to an ecosystem. For example, belowground foraging herbivores that bioturbate the soil, may alter process rates and community composition in ecosystems that lack native belowground mammalian foragers. Wild boar (Sus scrofa) disturb the soil system and plant community via their rooting behavior in their native range. Given their size and the numbers in their populations, this disturbance can be significant in forested ecosystems. Recently, wild boar were introduced to Patagonian forests lacking native mammalian herbivores that forage belowground. To explore how introduced wild boar might alter forested ecosystems, we conducted a large-scale wild boar exclusion experiment in three different forest types (Austroducedrus chilensisforest, Nothofagus dombeyi forest, and shrublands). Wild boar presence altered plant composition and structure, reducing plant biomass 3.8-fold and decreasing both grass and herb cover relative to areas where wild boar were excluded. Decomposition rates and soil compaction also declined by 5% in areas where boar had access; however, rooting had no effect on soil nutrient stocks and cycling. Interestingly, there were no differences in wild boar impacts on different forest types. We found that after 3-years of exclusion, belowground foraging by wild boar had a larger impact on plant community structure and biomass than it did on soil nutrient processes.