The seed ecology of an ornamental wattle in South Africa - Why has Acacia elata not invaded a greater area?
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Australian Acacia species introduced to South Africa as ornamentals have notably smaller invasive ranges than those introduced for forestry or dune stabilization.We asked whether the relatively small invasive extent of Acacia elata, a species used widely for ornamental purposes, is due to low rates of reproduction. Age at reproductive maturity, seed dispersal, annual seed production, seed bank dynamics and seed germination and viability were assessed at five sites in the Western Cape. Results indicate that A. elata has similar traits to other invasive Australia Acacia species: annual seed input into the leaf litter was high (up to 5000 seeds m−2); large seed banks develop (N20,000 seedsm−2) in established stands; seed germinability is high (N90%); seeds accumulate mostly in the top soil layers but can infiltrate to depths of 40 cm; and seed germination appears to be stimulated by fire. However the age at the onset of reproduction (~4 years) is longer than most widespread invaders (~3 years) and dispersal is fairly limited (seeds fell up to distances of 6 m from the parent canopy; the highest density of seed rain was found directly under the canopy with over 20% of seeds falling directly under the terminal branches). We suggest that the current limited distribution of invasive A. elata populations is the result of the relatively small size of initial populations (cf. large plantations and widespread plantings for forestry and dune stabilization species), the species' apparent lack of secondary dispersal vectors, and the planting of trees in gardens and urban settings offer limited opportunities for recruitment, proliferation and spread. The species is, however, increasing in abundance and range. We propose methods to improve management of invasions of the species. Management to reduce seed production of this species through classical biological control, as has been achieved for other Australian Acacia species in South Africa, should be prioritised.