Invasive plants transform the three-dimensional structure of rain forests

Gregory P. Asner, R. Flint Hughes, Peter M. Vitousek, David E. Knapp, Ty Kennedy-Bowdoin, Joseph Boardman, Roberta E. Martin, Michael Eastwood, Robert O. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

215 Scopus citations


Biological invasions contribute to global environmental change, but the dynamics and consequences of most invasions are difficult to assess at regional scales. We deployed an airborne remote sensing system that mapped the location and impacts of five highly invasive plant species across 221,875 ha of Hawaiian ecosystems, identifying four distinct ways that these species transform the three-dimensional (3D) structure of native rain forests. In lowland to montane forests, three invasive tree species replace native midcanopy and understory plants, whereas one understory invader excludes native species at the ground level. A fifth invasive nitrogen-fixing tree, in combination with a midcanopy alien tree, replaces native plants at all canopy levels in lowland forests. We conclude that this diverse array of alien plant species, each representing a different growth form or functional type, is changing the fundamental 3D structure of native Hawaiian rain forests. Our work also demonstrates how an airborne mapping strategy can identify and track the spread of certain invasive plant species, determine ecological consequences of their proliferation, and provide detailed geographic information to conservation and management efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4519-4523
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 18 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological invasion
  • Hawaii
  • Imaging spectroscopy
  • LiDAR
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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