Reproductive potential and seedling establishment of the invasive alien tree Schinus molle (Anacardiaceae) in South Africa
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Schinus molle (Peruvian pepper tree) was introduced to South Africa more than 150 years ago and was widely planted, mainly along roads. Only in the last two decades has the species become naturalized and invasive in some parts of its new range, notably in semi-arid savannas. Research is being undertaken to predict its potential for further invasion in South Africa.We studied production, dispersal and predation of seeds, seed banks, and seedling establishment in relation to land uses at three sites, namely ungrazed savanna once used as a military training ground; a savanna grazed by native game; and an ungrazed mine dump.We found that seed production and seed rain density of S. molle varied greatly between study sites, but was high at all sites (384 864–1 233 690 seeds per tree per year; 3877–9477 seeds per square metre per year).We found seeds dispersed to distances of up to 320 m from female trees, and most seeds were deposited within 50 m of putative source trees. Annual seed rain density below canopies of Acacia tortillis, the dominant native tree at all sites, was significantly lower in grazed savanna.The quality of seed rain was much reduced by endophagous predators. Seed survival in the soil was low, with no survival recorded beyond 1 year. Propagule pressure to drive the rate of recruitment: densities of seedlings and sapling densities were higher in ungrazed savanna and the ungrazed mine dump than in grazed savanna, as reflected by large numbers of young individuals, but adult : seedling ratios did not differ between savanna sites. Frequent and abundant seed production, together with effective dispersal of viable S. molle seed by birds to suitable establishment sites below trees of other species to overcome predation effects, facilitates invasion. Disturbance enhances invasion, probably by reducing competition from native plants.