Allelopathy: a tool for weed management in forest restoration
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- Cummings, J.A., Parker, I.M. & Gilbert, G.S. Plant Ecol (2012) 213: 1975. doi:10.1007/s11258-012-0154-x
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Forest restoration uses active management to re-establish natural forest habitat after disturbance. However, competition from early successional species, often aggressively invasive exotic plant species, can inhibit tree establishment and forest regeneration. Ideally, restoration ecologists can plant native tree species that not only establish and grow rapidly, but also suppress exotic competitors. Allelopathy may be a key mechanism by which some native trees could reduce the abundance and impact of exotic species. Allelopathy is a recognized tool for weed management in agriculture and agroforestry, but few studies have considered how allelopathic interactions may aid restoration. Here we introduce the “Homeland Security” hypothesis, which posits that some naïve exotic species may be particularly sensitive to allelochemicals produced by native species, providing a tool to reduce the growth and impacts of invasive exotic species on reforestation. This article explores how exploiting allelopathy in native species could improve restoration success and the re-establishment of natural successional dynamics. We review the evidence for allelopathy in agroforestry systems, and consider its relevance for reforestation. We then illustrate the potential for this approach with a case study of tropical forest restoration in Panama. C4 grasses heavily invade deforested areas in the Panama Canal watershed, especially Saccharum spontaneum L. We measured the effect of leaf litter from 17 potential restoration tree species on the growth of invasive C4 grasses. We found that leaf litter from legume trees had a greater inhibitory effect on performance of S. spontaneum than did litter from non-legume trees. However, allelopathic effects varied greatly among species within tree functional groups. Further evaluation of intra- and inter-specific interactions will help to improve our selection of restoration species.