Exposure of protected and unprotected forest to plant invasions in the eastern United States
Research Highlights: We demonstrate a macroscale framework combining an invasibility model with forest inventory data, and evaluate regional forest exposure to harmful invasive plants under different types of forest protection. Background and Objectives: Protected areas are a fundamental component of natural resource conservation. The exposure of protected forests to invasive plants can impede achievement of conservation goals, and the effectiveness of protection for limiting forest invasions is uncertain. We conducted a macroscale assessment of the exposure of protected and unprotected forests to harmful invasive plants in the eastern United States. Materials and Methods: Invasibility (the probability that a forest site has been invaded) was estimated for 82,506 inventory plots from site and landscape attributes. The invaded forest area was estimated by using the inventory sample design to scale up plot invasibility estimates to all forest area. We compared the invasibility and the invaded forest area of seven categories of protection with that of de facto protected (publicly owned) forest and unprotected forest in 13 ecological provinces. Results: We estimate approximately 51% of the total forest area has been exposed to harmful invasive plants, including 30% of the protected forest, 38% of the de facto protected forest, and 56% of the unprotected forest. Based on cumulative invasibility, the relative exposure of protection categories depended on the assumed invasibility threshold. Based on the invaded forest area, the five least-exposed protection categories were wilderness area (13% invaded), national park (18%), sustainable use (26%), nature reserve (31%), and de facto protected Federal land (36%). Of the total uninvaded forest area, only 15% was protected and 14% had de facto protection. Conclusions: Any protection is better than none, and public ownership alone is as effective as some types of formal protection. Since most of the remaining uninvaded forest area is unprotected, landscape-level management strategies will provide the most opportunities to conserve it.