Tree invasions into treeless areas: mechanisms and ecosystem processes
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Non-native tree invasions occur not only in woodland or forest vegetation, but also into areas with little or no native tree presence. Limiting factors for tree establishment and survival include seasonal or annual drought, low nutrient availability, cold temperature extremes, fire, and other abiotic conditions to which trees are poorly adapted as well as biotic conditions such as herbivory and lack of soil mutualist inoculum. Tree invasions of grasslands and semi-arid riparian areas in particular are now widespread and frequently result in the rapid conversion of these habitats to woodlands or forests. In some cases, these invasions are the result of a change in extrinsic conditions such as climate, fire, and/or grazing that remove what have been previous barriers to tree establishment. However, in other cases, tree species with particular life-history and dispersal traits fill open niches or outcompete native species. Significant examples of tree invasion into treeless areas can be seen with invasions of Pinus species into temperate grasslands and fynbos shrublands, Melaleuca quinquenervia and Triadica sebifera into grassy wetlands, Prosopis and Tamarix species into semi-arid riparian zones, and Acacia and Morella invasions into nutrient-poor shrublands and barrens. The establishment of trees into treeless areas may have strong impacts on ecosystem processes, influencing biogeochemical cycling, carbon sequestration and cycling, and ecohydrology, as well possible edaphic legacies that persist even if trees are removed.
- RESEARCH: Richardson D