Plos One. 7
Despite the iconic association of palms with semi-arid regions, most are introduced and can invade natural areas. Along the San Diego River (San Diego, California, USA), the introduced Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) forms dense patches among native riparian shrubs like arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis). The structural differences between the palm and native shrubs are visually obvious, but little is known about palm's effects on the ecosystem. We tested for the effects of the palm on a riparian invertebrate community in June 2011 by comparing the faunal and environmental variables associated with palm and willow canopies, trunks and ground beneath each species. The palm invertebrate community had lower abundance and diversity, fewer taxa feeding on the host (e.g., specialized hemipterans), and more taxa likely using only the plant's physical structure (e.g., web-builders, oak moths, willow hemipterans). There were no observed effects on the ground-dwelling fauna. Faunal differences were due to the physical and trophic changes associated with palm presence, namely increased canopy density, unpalatable leaves, trunk rugosity, and litter accumulations. Palm presence and resulting community shifts may have further ecosystem-level effects through alteration of physical properties, food, and structural resources. These results were consistent with a recent study of invasive palm effects on desert spring arthropods, illustrating that effects may be relatively generalizable. Since spread of the palm is largely localized, but effects are dramatic where it does occur, we recommend combining our results with several further investigations in order to prioritize management decisions.