Non-native plant invasion in relation to tourism use of Aconcagua Park, Argentina, the highest protected area in the Southern Hemisphere
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Although mountain regions are thought to be at lower risk of plant invasions, the diversity and cover of non-native plants is increasing in many alpine ecosystems, including the Andes. We reviewed vegetation surveys in Aconcagua Provincial Park in the dry Andes of Argentina to determine what non-native plants occur in the park and if their distribution is associated with tourism use. This high-altitude park is a popular tourism destination for hikers, with nearly all access by foot and pack animals (mules and horses) that are used for transport. Non-native plant diversity was low (21 species in the region, 16 species in the park) compared to some other mountain regions but included common mountain species from Europe, most of which can be dispersed by tourists and commercial operators on clothing and by pack animal dung. Nearly all non-native plants were restricted to lower altitudes, with no non-natives found above 3420 masl. Most non-native plants were restricted to sites disturbed by tourism use, particularly areas trampled by hikers and pack animals, except for 2 common non-native species, Taraxacum officinale and Convolvulus arvensis, which were also found in undisturbed vegetation. The relatively low cover and diversity of non-native plants at higher-altitude sites may reflect one or a combination of the following: climatic barriers, less human disturbance, and a lag in the dispersal of non-native species from lower altitudes within the park. This study highlights that even protected mountain areas with limited prior human use and nearly no road access can be invaded by non-native plants because of their popularity as mountaineer destinations. Management actions that could help minimize the further spread of non-native plants include limiting the introduction of non-native seeds on vehicles, clothing, and equipment and in dung; reducing trampling damage by restricting visitor use to designated trails; and restoring damaged sites.
Mountain Research and Development
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