, Volume 128, Issue 4, pp 594-602

Limits to tree species invasion in pampean grassland and forest plant communities

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Factors limiting tree invasion in the Inland Pampas of Argentina were studied by monitoring the establishment of four alien tree species in remnant grassland and cultivated forest stands. We tested whether disturbances facilitated tree seedling recruitment and survival once seeds of invaders were made available by hand sowing. Seed addition to grassland failed to produce seedlings of two study species, Ligustrum lucidum and Ulmus pumila, but did result in abundant recruitment of Gleditsia triacanthos and Prosopis caldenia. While emergence was sparse in intact grassland, seedling densities were significantly increased by canopy and soil disturbances. Longer-term surveys showed that only Gleditsia became successfully established in disturbed grassland. These results support the hypothesis that interference from herbaceous vegetation may play a significant role in slowing down tree invasion, whereas disturbances create microsites that can be exploited by invasive woody plants. Seed sowing in a Ligustrum forest promoted the emergence of all four study species in understorey and treefall gap conditions. Litter removal had species-specific effects on emergence and early seedling growth, but had little impact on survivorship. Seedlings emerging under the closed forest canopy died within a few months. In the treefall gap, recruits of Gleditsia and Prosopis survived the first year, but did not survive in the longer term after natural gap closure. The forest community thus appeared less susceptible to colonization by alien trees than the grassland. We conclude that tree invasion in this system is strongly limited by the availability of recruitment microsites and biotic interactions, as well as by dispersal from existing propagule sources.

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