Research ArticleAPPLIED ECOLOGY

DNA from lake sediments reveals long-term ecosystem changes after a biological invasion

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Science Advances  09 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaar4292
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar4292

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Abstract

What are the long-term consequences of invasive species? After invasion, how long do ecosystems require to reach a new equilibrium? Answering these questions requires long-term, high-resolution data that are vanishingly rare. We combined the analysis of environmental DNA extracted from a lake sediment core, coprophilous fungi, and sedimentological analyses to reconstruct 600 years of ecosystem dynamics on a sub-Antarctic island and to identify the impact of invasive rabbits. Plant communities remained stable from AD 1400 until the 1940s, when the DNA of invasive rabbits was detected in sediments. Rabbit detection corresponded to abrupt changes of plant communities, with a continuous decline of a dominant plant species. Furthermore, erosion rate abruptly increased with rabbit abundance. Rabbit impacts were very fast and were stronger than the effects of climate change during the 20th century. Lake sediments can allow an integrated temporal analysis of ecosystems, revealing the impact of invasive species over time and improving our understanding of underlying mechanisms.

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