Casuarina invasions: a multi-scale assessment of an important tree genus
Potgieter, Luke John
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Understanding the processes that drive the invasion of non-native species is often essential for effective management. This thesis focuses on Casuarina spp. – an economically and ecologically important tree genus with taxa that have been widely disseminated by humans. I explore the effects certain taxa can have on community dynamics in recipient environments, investigate the factors that mediate invasion of Casuarina species, and from this aim to develop recommendations for managing the group. First, I assessed the global introduction history, invasion ecology and the evolution of management approaches of Casuarina. Ten of the 14 species in the genus have been introduced outside their native ranges to over 150 countries, but only three species are recorded as naturalized or invasive. As with other groups there is a correlation between native range size and invasiveness – the three invasive species also have the largest introduced ranges. Propagule pressure explains much more of the variance in observed invasiveness between Casuarina taxa than any known combination of life-history traits. Large-scale plantings of casuarinas in some climatically suitable areas have not yet resulted in large-scale invasions; there is a substantial global Casuarina invasion debt. Experiences in Florida and the Mascarene Islands highlight that casuarinas have the potential to transform ecosystems with significant control costs. Despite modest progress with managing invasions in some areas, substantial problems remain. As with most other invasive tree taxa, complex conflicts of interest are particularly challenging. Second, I looked at mechanisms underlying naturalization and assessed invasion risk at a regional scale. Here, I examined Casuarina cunninghamiana invasions in the south-western Cape of South Africa – the part of the country with the largest contiguous area climatically similar to the native range of the species. Propagule pressure is a key driver of naturalization of C. cunninghamiana populations in climatically suitable areas. The species also naturalizes in regions with suboptimal bioclimatic conditions, but then only very near (<10 m) planted trees. Risk models indicate that C. cunninghamiana is likely to spread across a greater region of the Western Cape than it currently occupies. Naturalized populations of C. cunninghamiana are young and expanding. The capacity of the species to resprout and attain reproductive maturity at an early age suggests that this species could become a widespread and damaging invader in South Africa. We conclude with some recommendations for management, and argue that if particular steps are taken (e.g. the immediate removal of all female plants from proximity to dams and water-courses; all future sales and plantings to be restricted to male plants) then it might be possible to safely utilise the species in future. Third, I examined the invasion dynamics of a single Casuarina species at the landscape scale. I explored how interactions between disturbance and invasion govern successional trajectories, using the remarkable invasion of C. equisetifolia on the volcanic island of Réunion. Invasive populations of C. equisetifolia have increased substantially in extent over 40 years. Lava flows have facilitated the spread of C. equisetifolia and invasion of this species has radically changed successional trajectories, increasing the rate of succession sevenfold. This case mirrors work done on Morella faya and Falcataria moluccana on Hawa'ii, which shows the extent to which invasive species can alter ecosystem function and benefit from natural disturbances generated by volcanic lava flows. The continued spread of C. equisetifolia poses a major threat to the small area of remaining native lowland rainforests on Réunion which cover < 2 % of their original extent. The studies in this thesis have uncovered patterns, processes and invasion risks for invasive trees that are not well represented in the literature. Some insights derived from well-studied tree genera, such as Acacia and Pinus, seem to apply fairly well to tree invasions in general. However, special ecological features of Casuarina species and the ways they are used by humans call for unique considerations when piecing together changing global distributions and creating effective strategies for management.