, Volume 192, Issue 1, pp 119-132
Date: 28 Nov 2006

Melaleuca quinquenervia dominated forests in Florida: analyses of natural-enemy impacts on stand dynamics

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Melaleuca quinquenervia (melaleuca) is a native of Australia but has become an invasive plant in Florida, USA. We conducted a long-term demographic study of melaleuca in three sections (central, transitional, and peripheral) of monoculture stands located in Florida, and quantified absolute density, diameter at breast height and basal area of trees by section at three sites. Additionally, we monitored the impacts of natural enemy (insects and fungi) on melaleuca populations which became apparent after 2001. Both absolute density and basal area, from before (1997–2001) and after noticeable natural-enemy impact (2002–2005), were compared. Prior to the natural-enemy impact, absolute density of melaleuca trees declined primarily due to self-thinning and associated losses of small trees, but diameter at breast height increased, as did the basal area. Later during the period when natural enemies prevailed, absolute density declined at a significantly greater rate across all sections but was highest at the periphery. The decrease in mean absolute density and basal area/ha of melaleuca during the natural-enemy impacted period coincided with the increased incidence of the populations of plant-feeding insects and fungi. The mean diameter at breast height continued to increase in all sections of the stands throughout the study period. An increasing trend in basal area prior to natural-enemy impact was reversed after increase in natural-enemy abundance and noticeable impact in all three sections of the stands. These findings lend support to a growing body of literature that implicates natural enemies as increasingly important density-independent regulators of M. quinquenervia populations.