Abiotic barriers limit tree invasion but do not hamper native shrub recruitment in invaded stands
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The interplay between the invasion of alien plant species and re-colonization of native plant species is important for conservation. Sandy coastal plains (called restinga in Brazil) were used as a model system to explore the abiotic barriers that potentially limit the initial establishment of alien and native woody plants in invaded and non-invaded areas. The study tested the influence of light availability, soil type and litter layer on recruitment of a wind-dispersed alien tree (Casuarina equisetifolia) and two bird dispersed native shrubs under a Casuarina stand and in the preserved restinga. The effect of soil type and the physical and allelopathic effects of Casuarina litter on seedling emergence of the three species were also evaluated under greenhouse conditions. Low dispersal associated with low seedling emergence and zero survival of young plants (mainly due to microhabitat conditions) apparently prevents the spread of Casuarina in the preserved restinga. The main cause of low recruitment of native species in the Casuarina stand was the physical barrier of the litter. However, if seeds overcome this physical barrier, the presence of litter improves seedling emergence and survival of young plants, mainly because the litter increases soil moisture. Sowing seeds below litter and planting young plants of native shrubs on litter can improve the re-colonization of native plants in invaded areas. In conclusion, Casuarina invasion on sandy coastal plains is strongly limited by abiotic barriers, but anthropogenic disturbances are altering the key processes that naturally make the restinga resistant to invasion.
- RESEARCH: Richardson D